Who We Are and What We Are Judged For

July 1, 2004 | 18 comments
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In a recent post, there was a bit of a debate about what we are or aren’t allowed to be judged for. For example, suppose I honestly don’t believe the Church to be true. I even pray about it. To what extent can I be punished for my lack of faith?

In one sense, this is moot as a judgment tool for us because we never observe others’ sincerity and it is not for us to judge other’s eventual salvation or lack thereof. But we do need to know where we stand, so the the question may be worth thinking about.

I would claim that we cannot rightly be blamed for anything that is done to us, only for what we do. Further, that we can only be blamed for something to the extent that it is of our own accord. To the extent that we are behaving as we have been conditioned by others, then that can’t be our fault. We also cannot be punished for failure to have gifts or abilities (such as faith) when we were not given the opportunity to have those gifts.

So it should not be the case that I am punished for being what God (or other people) made me. I am only responsible for that part of me that is eternally me. And what is that? What is something so essential that to change it is to alter me into someone that is not me? I believe it is the part of me way deep down inside that chooses to follow and seek truth or to reject truth. I, as an eternal being, am defined by, and judged by, my desire to love that which is good.

This is different than my actual knowledge of truth or my ability to love others. It is the primal desire I have, independent of my current knowledge or obedience, to seek out and embrace true principles. It is my ability to actualize a love of truth and the good. Hence the first commandment is to Love God. And Charity never faileth. And those that seek out light (because they love it), get more light. While those that turn from light and truth end up in hell.

What matters, in the end, is not our faith or our reasons for believing God. God gives faith as a gift. There could be no better example than the closing testimony of Elder McConkie. His faith in God was not the result of logical deduction. It was a primal gift from God, given in response to his obedience to the commandments, which obedience came because Elder McConkie loved truth and the good, even if he didn’t know eactly what those things were. Knowledge is a result of our love, but our love is who we are. I think this is what Paul was saying.

What matters is that when faced with the choice, we gravitate towards the good, whether we can articulate what is the good or not. Everything else about us can be fixed by the atonement. But a fundamental failure of love of truth cannot. Because to change that would be to make us someone else. Now all of this is about how we are deep inside, not how we appear to ourselves or others now. We may appear to be jerks or rude or nice or spiritual or carnal. But some of that is conditioning, some is genetics, some is a gift from God. Only after this life, at the judgment bar, do we see which choices we were truly in charge of and how well we did. Thus we are not even fit to judge ourselves, “until we know as we are known”. God, mercifully, reveals to us when we are on the right track, but this is revealed to us though Him, not something we can conclude of our own accord.

So, how do I know what is right, that I might love it?. This is relevant on a day to day basis as we try to do the good. But in some grand sense it is not so important to the question at hand. You, at your essence, love certain things, even if you don’t always know it. Knowledge is secondary to that primal love. If that thing is truth, then we will find our way back to God who will fix our errors and show us the truth and make us like Him through the atonement.

I believe that God knows who will return to Him and who will not. When the scriptures speak of Him looking upon the heart, I think this means He knows our essence. Our testing on earth is part of the process of revealing our heart to ourselves, so we know what we most want. The process may not even be over in this life. But at some point we will know what it is we most desire, and that is exactly what we will get.

These ideas are incomplete and perhaps wrong in important ways. But I am not very good at being clear. So if you disagree, it may be because I am wrong or it may just be that I phrased it badly. I am open to both possibilities. I am also interested in scriptures that help me understand or correct my view.

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18 Responses to Who We Are and What We Are Judged For

  1. Gary Cooper on July 1, 2004 at 2:18 pm

    Frank,

    You are definitely on to something here. I’m still digesting your comments and thinking about them, but I’ll just say that your point here seems correct, or at least your on the right track. Certainly much of what you have said here resonates positively with me. In any case, I am confident, as you are, that God knows us, and takes into account all aspects of our existence, knowledge, and experience when judging us, and that His judgements are not only just, but also compassionate. As J. Reuben Clark stated once, God will punish us only the very least amount that He has to, and will bless us the very most that He can.

  2. Gary Lee on July 1, 2004 at 2:23 pm

    Frank: “What matters is that when faced with the choice, we gravitate towards the good, whether we can articulate what is the good or not. Everything else about us can be fixed by the atonement. But a fundamental failure of love of truth cannot. Because to change that would be to make us someone else.”

    If this is true, then aren’t we all without hope? If the atonement can’t fix the only thing that really matters, then what is the point of the atonement? Are you suggesting than we have the power to change our essence all by ourselves? Or that it cannot be changed, but only revealed to us?

  3. danithew on July 1, 2004 at 2:26 pm

    Frank,

    I’m still waiting for my lesson in how to turn a comment text into a link. How’s this for sheer doggedness? :)

    Danithew

  4. Frank McIntyre on July 1, 2004 at 2:32 pm

    I am defining a person’s essence as that part of them that cannot be changed iwthout making them no longer that person. If there is no such essence, then I don’t understand why we aren’t all saved. There has to be some reason why some people are exalted and some are not. I am trying to think what that difference is.

    By definition, then, essence cannot be changed while holding constant who we are. The atonment can certainly be used to change many things about us, if we are willing. But if it can really change everything, then why isn’t everyone saved. The “if we are willing” is the space where I am working.

  5. Frank McIntyre on July 1, 2004 at 2:38 pm

    Danithew, it appears, loves html linking.

    The code is standard html, so you can learn it anywhere. Teaching it within an html document is tricky because, if you write the code, it disappears as html code. so when I write [, I really mean the “less than” symbol and when I write ] i really mean the “greater than” symbol on your keyboard.

    With that adjustment, bold is:

    [b] I’m right [/b]

    italics are

    [i]bite me![/i]

    and a link to heaven is

    [a href=”http://www.heaven.com”]this link will not really get you to heaven. try prayer.[/a]

    which would look like this once you substitute for the brackets:

    bold is:

    I’m right

    italics are

    bite me!

    and a link to heaven is

    this link will not really get you to heaven. try prayer.

  6. Carl Youngblood on July 1, 2004 at 2:39 pm

    Gary Lee: “If this is true, then aren’t we all without hope? If the atonement can’t fix the only thing that really matters, then what is the point of the atonement? Are you suggesting than we have the power to change our essence all by ourselves? Or that it cannot be changed, but only revealed to us?”

    Although I believe that Frank’s proposition is good, I can see the danger you are hinting at. It sounds very close to the doctrine of predestination–basically the notion that our orientation towards heaven or hell is an innate part of our being and cannot be changed.

    Maybe though, this orientation is still choosable. I don’t understand it all very well, but these are definitely interesting subjects.

  7. danithew on July 1, 2004 at 4:49 pm

    OK Frank… I’m trying to put all three commands into one line. Either this is going to be very sloppy looking or it will work like a charm. There can be no intermediate success! :)

    Thanks Frank!

  8. danithew on July 1, 2004 at 4:53 pm

    Um… I was WRONG about the whole intermediate success thing. The link ain’t working.

    Still, thanks for the html lesson.

  9. Jack on July 1, 2004 at 5:13 pm

    Frank: If, in the end, we are judged only by the unalterable essence that is the “real” self, why this miserable mortal experience? I agree that it’s important for us as individuals to learn for ourselves what we truely love. One of the challenges of this life is to re-aquaint ourselves with what we love while bring along the extra baggage that comes with the flesh. Perhaps part of the judgement will be determined by how the extra baggage effects our true essence. In other words, perhaps there is a possibility that our primal affections may be altered by the added element of flesh.

  10. Nathan Tolman on July 1, 2004 at 5:21 pm

    This reminds me of a talk, by Elder Ballard in Conference I believe, in which he states it matters more to God, in terms of judgment, what direction we are going than where we actually are.

    Does this, along with ordnances, not describe Salvation by Grace?

    On HTML: Perhaps the site should have a FAQ where this is explained.

  11. William on July 1, 2004 at 11:11 pm

    Frank: “So it should not be the case that I am punished for being what God (or other people) made me. I am only responsible for that part of me that is eternally me.”

    Why should you be responsible for your eternal nature? You didn’t choose it. You didn’t make yourself that way. If it’s truly eternal, then it has always been the case and therefore was not caused by anyone or anything. Furthermore, if it’s truly eternal, then it will always be the case and therefore cannot be changed. So my opinion is very nearly the opposite of yours. “The part of me that is eternally me” (if there is any such thing) is one thing I’m definitely not responsible for. How can anyone be held morally responsible for something which they did not cause and cannot change?

  12. William on July 1, 2004 at 11:12 pm

    Frank: “So it should not be the case that I am punished for being what God (or other people) made me. I am only responsible for that part of me that is eternally me.”

    Why should you be responsible for your eternal nature? You didn’t choose it. You didn’t make yourself that way. If it’s truly eternal, then it has always been the case and therefore was not caused by anyone or anything. Furthermore, if it’s truly eternal, then it will always be the case and therefore cannot be changed. So my opinion is very nearly the opposite of yours. “The part of me that is eternally me” (if there is any such thing) is one thing I’m definitely not responsible for. How can anyone be held morally responsible for something which they did not cause and cannot change?

  13. Susan on July 1, 2004 at 11:45 pm

    This discussion assumes that if one has a talent for the truth, a truthful feeling person will fall in with the church? Or? I find that those mysterious antennae we have aren’t so very reliable as that.

  14. Heather Oman on July 2, 2004 at 12:36 am

    “So it should not be the case that I am punished for being what God (or other people) made me. I am only responsible for that part of me that is eternally me. And what is that?”

    I have often wondered how much control we have over who we are. I look at my son, and he behaved in certain ways when he was 3 days old that were already indicative of the person he is now becoming. I’m sure every mother will tell you the same story. Did he have control over who he was in infancy? I would say probably not.

    So if we have little or no control over who we are, or at least who we were when we arrived here, what will we be judged for? Frank, I think some of what you say may be correct. We will be judged on our inability to recognize and turn towards truth, or, for those of us without the inherent gift of faith, we will be held accountable for our lack of diligence and practice to learn to recognize truth and goodness and light. But I also think we will answer for a failure to live up to that eternal self, the one who has endless potential. To not try to discover the godliness in the self and magnify it towards that purpose–that, I think, will be our ultimate accounting.

  15. Gary Cooper on July 2, 2004 at 11:20 am

    How does the parable of the talents apply here? Don’t all of us enter this life with our personality and abilities, etc., as “talents”? Some of us may have more “talents” than others at birth, but we all have our “self”, a genuine talent. If we *improve* on that, building strengths where there were weaknessess, improving our positives, gaining new aspects to our personalities (as children do as they grow older), we will be judged positively. If, on the other hand, we leave this life the same person we were when we entered (“this is just how I am; I can’t change—and I don’t want to!”), well, then God is right to judge us.

    I agree with the concern that others have expressed that Frank seems to be implying a form of “predestination” here, but I don’t believe that’s what he is actually saying. We are free to choose our way in mortality—that is, we come to this earth as we are, with opportunities to “build on” to that, becoming better. For most, the ability to actually realize eternal benefit from that amelioration won’t come until after mortality, when the Gospel is encountered and vicarious ordinance work can be done (let’s remember that the vast majority of the human race have lived and died without the Gospel).

    For some, life will be so full of suffering and darkness that God will not hold them much accountable for their errors in mortality, and I suspect that God is therefore careful to send only those spirits to such an existence who actually *need* such suffering, so to speak, as part of their progression. It may be that certain of our brothers and sisters, while choosing to fight on Michael’s side in the war in heaven, may still be the type that just don’t “get” some important principles, such as charity, that are essential for exaltation, and so God may reason that such people *have* to go through a life of terrible suffering, so that they can grasp the concept of compassion for others.

    In any case, while I agree that there is an essence in each of us that makes us uniquely “us”, as individuals, I do not agree that this is forever “set in stone”, as such. Yes, my little girls showed certain traits at a very early age, but they have developed more as they have grown. Yes, I came to mortiality as “me”, but I have learned, I have grown, I have changed—there is now MORE to ME than there was before.

    It cannot be so for Satan and the spirits who followed him. They are forever “locked” into timelessness—forever trapped to never change for the better, but to remain as they were, and even to devolve. Such might also be the fate of sons of perdition; they are “trapped” as “themselves”—never able to improve, because of the walls of anger, revenge, and pride they have built around their hearts. I suppose this is a problem for those in the telestial kingdom, too. They have so filled their lives, by choice, with violence, deceit, and immorality (read the references in D&C 76), that while able to receive some blessings, they just can’t change beyond a certain type of personality. They can’t change because they have made such poor choices for so long that they no longer have the desire to be different, nor would they be able to grasp what a “celestial” mentality and life would be.

  16. Frank McIntyre on July 2, 2004 at 12:56 pm

    William,

    “Why should you be responsible for your eternal nature? You didn’t choose it. You didn’t make yourself that way.”

    There is a confusion of language here. Without that “eternal nature”, there is no “you”. It is meaningless to talk about changing or not changing one’s essence. Because, by definition, you would be someone else if you so changed. “You” would cease to be. That person may choose different things, but it woulld not be you. If it is you, then what changed is not what I am talking about, because it is not essential.

    Susan,

    I did my best to make clear that we have no chance whatsoever of discovering our essence until we “know as we are known”, which thing does not happen in this life (for most of us). Thus one’s church affiliation may or may not be relevant. We simply have no way of saying for any individual case what matters and what doesn’t.

    Heather,

    I completely agree that we should live up to some potential within us. But some of us choose not to. That choice “not to” is all that stops us from being Gods. But that choice defines who we have chosen to be. Our essence is not our potential, for we all have potential to be like God if we choose. The choice is the essence of who we are.

    Gary,

    Growth and change certainly occur, and we must grow in many ways to be like God. To do so, though, requires the choice to grow. The choice to grow is the essence. Not the growth.

  17. Frank McIntyre on July 2, 2004 at 1:03 pm

    Our theology of eternal pre-existence gets around a nice conundrum, why would God create a soul that He then must damn to hell? Why didn’t he make it a soul that would be good?

    We claim that we are eternal beings that were not created by God. Thus God did not make us bad, we are or aren’t bad based on our own choices and decisions.

    But this is to simply turn back the clock. William argues thqat since we did not decide to be that way, then how can we be blamed for it. This argument will pop up in most theology. One can always claim to not be responsible because everything was caused by something besides you. This might be a reason to be suspicious of our language of causation, but that is a question for another day.

    I think one way to get around this problem is to recognize that you are those choices and that it is meaningless to talk of such change because you would then not be you, but someone else. This is not entirely satisfactory, but it helps me think about who I am and what is most important. My gifts and talents from God are not most important, my desire to be like God is the thing to concentrate on.

  18. Jack on July 2, 2004 at 5:10 pm

    Frank: Could the fall of Lucifer be so stunning because there was a change in his fundimental nature or essence? Or is it merely that an individual fell from a nearly exalted position? And if so, is it possible for one to attain such heights and then meet such a tragic end because his/her true nature is to hate the Truth? This begs another question: Was there ever a time when the adversary may have loved the Truth?