I once asked a sage I know, “Do Mormons believe the nature of man is good or evil?”
He answered, “Yes.” How wonderful, how zenny, how true.
The Gospel is full of paradoxes. Why should this matter be any different? While we teach that we are not to be punished for Adam’s (or anyone else’s) transgressions, we also teach that “the natural man is an enemy to God.” The term “original sin” is not used in Mormon nomenclature. There are conditions of our mortality that have made our human experience conflicted. Here are two of my favorite scriptures on this topic:
For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father (Mosiah 3:19)
…to will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would, I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do….For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind…Oh wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord…Romans 7:18-25.
I sense in at least the culture of Mormonism the assumption that humans are good by nature and the freedom to choose doing “good” over doing “evil” is what eventually will “prove” our worthiness. (Yes, I’m being a little provocative here.) The Romans passage especially resonates with my experience, with my recognition that my best efforts are always flawed, with my frustration, awe and gratitude.
Accepting the given that Christ’s grace makes up for our lack, why then are we (especially in the scriptures) prone to divide people into “righteous” and “wicked.” Where did the idea come from that obedience (not love) is the first law of heaven? Our critics claim we stress morality to a fault – faith without works may be dead, but works without a loving faith? Where does that get us? Did I really read an Ensign article making it sound is if the unconditional love of God is in fact conditional on our obedience…which apparently by the nature of our human condition is impossible for us by dint of will.
Gospel living is more than a dint of will, duty, effort, a Sisyphean exercise to be obedient enough. Here’s a C.S. Lewis quote whose tone I’d love to hear in more talks over LDS pulpits:
Morality is indispensable; but the Divine Life, which gives itself to us and which calls us to be gods, intends for us something in which morality will be swallowed up. We are to be re-made. All the rabbit in us is to disappear – the worried, conscientious, ethical rabbit as well as the cowardly and sensual rabbit. We shall bleed and squeal as the handfuls of fun come out; and then, surprisingly, we shall find underneath it all a thing we have never yet imagined: a real Man, an ageless god, a son of God, strong, radiant, wise beautiful, and drenched in joy.
As long as our watchword is “strive” instead of “surrender” will we ever understand that kind of Divine Life?