I was maybe ten years old when I complained to my father about having to go to church. I didn’t like it; it was boring; why couldn’t I just stay home? His response susprised me: “If you don’t want to be there, then stay home. God doesn’t want your grudging obedience.” Elated (and a bit nonplussed), I stayed home a few times; ultimately, I felt guilty and resumed attendance.
Since then, I’ve thought about the question on occasion. Does God expect us to give grudging obedience? What sort of blessings (if any) do we get from grudging obedience? What is the result when we say, for example, “I really hate the Word of Wisdom and I think it’s stupid and I wish I could go have a cup of tea, but I’m going to obey it anyway.” Or the same regarding church attendance, chastity, scripture reading, tithing, temple attendance, missionary work, whatever.
On the one hand, it is easy to find statements condemning grudging obedience. For example, James E Talmadge wrote:
Our Father desires no reluctant homage nor unwilling praise. Formalism in worship is acceptable only so far as it is accompanied by an intelligent devoutness; and it is of use only as an aid to the spiritual devotion which leads to communion with Deity. The spoken prayer is but empty sound if it be anything less than an index to the volume of the soul’s righteous desire. Communications addressed to the throne of Grace must bear the stamp of sincerity if they are to reach their high destination. The most acceptable form of worship is that which rests on an unreserved compliance with the laws of God as the worshiper has learned their intent.
These statements make a lot of sense in the gospel context. We have a raft of scriptures telling us that God looks on the heart; “how a man thinketh”; whited seplechures; and so forth. (And does a Mormon culture already suffused with passive aggressiveness really need to add grudging obedience to the mix?)
On the other hand, sometimes commandments bring with them tangible, physical results. We have better lung health when we refrain from smoking, whether we do so cheerfully or grudgingly. We will have better knowledge of the gospel when we read scriptures. The same applies to many other commandments. The D&C tells us that we receive blessings when we obey commandments. Presumably at least some of these will be given even if our obedience is grudging.
Finally, how should we translate ideas about grudging obedience into everyday lives? Suppose that someone has no desire to obey some commandment. (Yes, it happens). Should our response be, “you should obey it anyway, even if you have to do so grudgingly”? Or should it be, “you should wait until you believe it and can obey it cheerfully”? Put in that context, is grudging obedience a step up from cheerful non-compliance? Or is it a wash?