Posts tagged ‘Mormon’

The Pursuit of Perfection

Credit: nsunews.nova.edu

Credit: nsunews.nova.edu

Somehow, I knew just by the title of the article that “Confessions of a Mormon housewife” was not going be particularly titillating reading. And sure enough, I was right. This Mormon housewife’s confession was that when she became sick, and when ladies from her ward came to visit her, she “started to become insecure with [her] appearance and the state of [her] home.”[1]  Jill Strassburg, the housewife in question, explains:

When they would come visit me, they were completely “put together,” and I began to think that they were perfect.

So I stopped answering my door. I didn’t want them to see me sick or see that the house wasn’t cleaned up. The thoughts I was having made me feel like I was, somehow, less of a woman.

I was beginning to realize that I was living in a culture of attaining perfection. And I started to wonder, why do so many Mormon women strive for perfection?

On the one hand, when I read Jill’s confession of worry over the cleanliness of her home, I think of Johann von Staupitz’s admonition to Martin Luther. Exasperated by Luther’s overwhelming guilty conscience and never-ending confessions, Staupitz eventually quips:

Look here, brother Martin. If you’re going to confess so much, why don’t you go do something worth confessing? Kill your mother or father! Commit adultery! Quit coming in here with such peccadillos![2]

Worry, although definitely a sin according to Jesus in Matthew 6:25, is also a societally safe sin. No one has ever been jailed or shunned for worry.

On the other hand, the nature of her sin aside, Jill’s question haunts me: “I started to wonder, why do so many Mormon women strive for perfection?”

This is a profound question. But Jill’s answer leaves me puzzled. She writes: “While I’m not a historian, scholar or official representative for the LDS church, I think this obsession with perfection is rooted in the church’s historical values and traditions.” She goes on to talk about how Mormon women “followed traditional roles of womanhood” and how the church still promotes “traditional values.” But traditional gender roles and values are not the same thing as perfection. A person can be traditional without aspiring to or feeling pressured to be perfect.

I can’t help but think that the true culprit of the Mormon quest for perfection is theological. Indeed, foundational to Mormonism’s doctrine of salvation is a striving for perfection. Consider this from the Book of Mormon:

Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in Him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is His grace sufficient for you, that by His grace ye may be perfect in Christ.[3]

According to the Book of Mormon, God has grace for a person unto salvation, but only after he has denied all ungodliness and loved God with everything in him. In other words, God has grace for you, but only if you’re perfect – or at least pretty close to it.

How do you know when you’ve denied enough ungodliness and loved God to such an extent that God’s grace will be sufficient for you? Herein lies Mormonism’s existential crisis that results in its relentless pursuit of perfection. Mormons cannot know whether or not they will be good enough to merit God’s grace. They can only wish and hope.

Jill finally admits:

We all know that perfection is unattainable, but we should still strive to be the best we can be every day. If we could actually be perfect, there would be nothing to work toward. There wouldn’t be anything left to gain from this life that we live.

Jill knows she can’t be perfect. But in her mind, that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t try.

Holy Scripture paints quite a different picture from the Book of Mormon of what it means to pursue perfection: “When perfection comes, the imperfect disappears” (1 Corinthians 13:10). Paul says perfection is not something to be pursued, but a promise that will pursue us and come to us on the Last Day. Indeed, more than that, perfection is a person who will pursue us and come to us on the Last Day when Jesus comes for us on the Last Day. This is why, finally, I’m not really interested in attaining some depersonalized virtue of perfection. I’m much more interested in Jesus. In my mind, being forgiven by a perfect Savior is much better – and a lot less stressful – than trying to be a perfect person.

I pray Jill comes to the same realization.

_________________________________

[1] Jill Strasburg, “Confessions of a Mormon housewife,” CNN (10.2.2014).

[2] Gerald R. McDermott, The Great Theologians: A Brief Guide (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2010), 83.

[3] Moroni 10:32.

October 13, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

It’s Not Tricky … It’s Really Not

Hebrew Text 2It seems like it’s been happening to me a lot lately.

The other day on the radio, I heard a commercial for “The Biblical Money Code,” a program that claims to be able to make millions for the person who follows it:

Imagine if you had a secret code for making money … a code buried deep within biblical text.  A code that certain investment titans have quietly exploited to amass billions.  And what if this code could be used by you, today, to unlock vast amounts of wealth — safely and ethically.[1]

Now, forget the fact that what the Bible has to say about money is about as straightforward and sharp as it can be.  For instance:  “No one can serve two masters.  Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matthew 6:24).  Forget the fact that God nowhere promises that you can or will amass billions.  Forget the fact that the Bible doesn’t even find it particularly desirable that a person would amass billions.  All of what’s in this program has to be in the Bible.  You just have to unlock the code.

But that’s not the only biblical “code” I’ve run across recently.

The other day, I received an email from a friend claiming the prophet Muhammad was identified by name in the Old Testament.  Where?  Song of Songs 5:16:  “His mouth is sweetness itself; he is altogether lovely.  This is my lover, this my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.”  How does this refer to Muhammad?  The Hebrew word for “altogether lovely” is machamadim, which sounds like “Muhammad.”  Now, forget the fact that, in context, this is a statement by a wife about her husband.  Forget the fact that machamadim is a Hebrew word and Muhammad is an Arabic name.  Forget the fact that there is nothing in this verse that would indicate this is a prophetic statement.  These two words sound similar, so they must be related.  You just have to unlock the code.

But that’s not the only biblical “code” I’ve run across recently.

I remember a conversation I had with some Mormon friends about the kingdoms of glory in the afterlife.  “We can enter a telestial, terrestrial, or celestial kingdom,” my friends explained.  From where do they get this?  1 Corinthians 15:40 (KJV):  “There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.”  Now, forget the fact that Paul’s point here is not to talk about afterlife destinations, but to speak of the kind of body we will receive at the resurrection of the dead, as he makes abundantly clear at the conclusion of his argument:

So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:42-44)

Forget the fact that this verse doesn’t even mention telestial bodies.  Forget the fact that no one in the Church interpreted this verse in this way before Joseph Smith.  Paul has to be talking about different afterlife destinations.  You just have to unlock the code.

With so many so-called “religious experts” peddling so many biblical codes, it is worth it to remind ourselves of the principle of perspicuity.  Perspicuity is from a Latin word meaning “clearness.”  And classically, the Church has ascribed this characteristic to Holy Writ.  The Lutheran dogmatician Francis Pieper summarizes biblical perspicuity thusly:  “The perspicuity of Scripture consists in this, that it presents, in language that can be understood by all, whatever men must know to be saved.”[2]  Pieper goes on to note that Scripture testifies to its own perspicuity in places like Psalm 19:7:  “The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.”  One can be simple intellectually and still gain wisdom from Scripture, for Scripture is clear.  Understanding the Good Book does not take a Ph.D. in theology.

Now, this is not to say that every verse of the Bible is equally easy to understand.  No less than the great preacher Chrysostom explains that some parts of the Bible can indeed be difficult to interpret:

Let us suppose … rivers … are not of the same depth.  Some have a shallow bed, others one deep enough to drown one unacquainted with it. In one part there are whirlpools, and not in another … Why then art thou bent on drowning thyself in those depths?[3]

Chrysostom compares different parts of Scripture to different rivers.  Some parts are shallow and easy to navigate.  Other parts are deeper and more difficult to wade through.  But though some parts of Scripture are richly deep, none are nefariously tricky.  In other words, the biblical authors are not trying to hide things from us with a code, but reveal things to us under the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit.

The long and short of biblical perspicuity, then, is this:  finding codes, mysteries, and secrets that cater to our sinful lusts like greed, play “sound like” games with words across languages, and rip words out of a text and shoehorn them into meaning something which, contextually, they clearly do not and cannot mean are not only not biblical, they’re evil.  God wants us to understand and follow His Word – not be confused by it and misinterpret it.

So the next time you open your Bible, don’t pull out your decoder ring, pull out your reading glasses.  They’ll work much better.  And you’ll be much more edified.


[1]The Biblical Money Code,” newsmax.com

[2] Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, vol. 1 (St. Louis:  Concordia Publishing House, 1950), 320.

[3] John Chrysostom, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, series 1, vol. 13, P. Schaff, ed. (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1889), 507.

January 13, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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