We’ve All Been Set Up

February 21, 2014 | 22 comments
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You have to turn and look.

You have to turn and look.

We’ve all been set up for failure.

Consider the plan: go to Earth and obey the commandments.  How likely is that to turn out well?  Add in that part with Adam, Eve, and the fruit and I think it is pretty clear that this was a set up to force us to… turn to God.  Failure makes us humble.  Repentance changes our hearts.  Which is the goal: a broken heart and a contrite spirit.

So when someone complains about a standard being too high or that we are setting people up for failure by expecting things like chastity, honesty, modesty, tithing or whatever else.  Well, they may be right.  Failure, after all, was part of the plan.

(this post owes debts to, but no has no claims on, Nathaniel’s post here and the fireside speaker in my ward last week).

22 Responses to We’ve All Been Set Up

  1. Craig on February 21, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    I agree, but I honestly do no know what it means, or how, to “turn to God.”

  2. Craig H. on February 21, 2014 at 3:08 pm

    Thanks Frank. Maybe Paul, in Romans, should get a little credit here too for inspiring you…

  3. jasonandtheargonauts on February 21, 2014 at 6:28 pm

    Mormon guilt is also one of the reasons why so many Utahns are on anti-depressants.

  4. mtnmarty on February 21, 2014 at 6:50 pm

    If we could add enough mormon guilt and anti-depressants to the rest of the states we’d be in a heaven on earth.

  5. Erin on February 21, 2014 at 7:03 pm

    “Mormon guilt is also one of the reasons why so many Utahns are on anti-depressants.”

    Not to threadjack, but you don’t know why “so many Utahns are on anti-depressants.” No one knows for sure. It could be related to lots of other things: post-partum depression (related to the high birthrate), genetics (lots of people have similar ancestry), seasonal affective disorder, Utahns low substance use/abuse (maybe non-Utahns/nonmembers are equally depressed, but they self-medicate with substances, and Utahns/members seek medical help for their depression).

  6. Steve Martin on February 21, 2014 at 7:07 pm

    We (everyone) need a sense of guilt…and shame. And a proper understanding of what it takes to enter Heaven if we are to rely upon anything that we ‘do’…or ‘don’t do’.

    “You must be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.”

    What do we do with that?

    So…we repent…turn to Christ our Savior. Without Him…we don’t stand a chance.

  7. Sonny on February 21, 2014 at 10:09 pm

    I was thinking that I will help my brothers and sisters in the gospel develop that needed sense of shame by heaping some on them when they do something I feel they shouldn’t.

  8. SWM on February 21, 2014 at 11:50 pm

    Yes, Sonny, that is how societies maintain order. Nobody feels bad about heaping shame on racists, nobody defends them saying “that’s just what they believe.” That’s because we believe racism is harmful to society. Everything else, down to shaming someone for something ridiculous like drinking soda, is part of that spectrum.

  9. WalkerW on February 22, 2014 at 12:00 am

    Erin: Your comment is so full of win.

  10. MarenM on February 22, 2014 at 1:14 am

    Bingo, Frank. Failure is the new success. It’s all about what you choose to do with it and what you can learn.

  11. Dave on February 22, 2014 at 8:56 am

    Frank, I suppose one can paint the plan of salvation as you have in the OP, but it seems like a pessimistic take on things that runs contrary to the generally optimistic view of life that characterizes Mormonism. We reject the Calvinist mode of embracing, even obsessing over, guilt and failure. Instead we talk about self-reliance and self-improvement as much as we talk about faith and repentance. I find the irrepressible optimism of Mormonism to be one of its most attractive features.

  12. John C. on February 22, 2014 at 9:51 am

    Frank, you’ll get no argument from me regarding your basic premise. I agree that we were sent here, primarily, to come to trust and rely on God moreso than we do ourselves. That’s a difficult and probably impossible task in morality, but that’s probably the point.

    That said, I wonder if it is useful to use this explanation to give a pass to every commandment that we encounter. If there are commandments that seem to actively harm others, blithely arguing that it was meant to be hard for these others exhibits a lack of both empathy and reflection on our part. I can understand God asking me to show self-restraint and personal discipline; I have a harder time understanding him insisting on harming someone to achieve some good. And I do find many aspects of ‘modesty culture’ and wider church culture harmful.

    Now, I think the benefits outweigh costs and most of what I consider harmful I don’t consider necessary, so I’m able to rationalize myself out of cognitive dissonance. But I don’t like to pretend unnecessary suffering is ennobling. That strikes me as making a mockery of Christ’s own sacrifice.

  13. ideasnstuff on February 22, 2014 at 11:54 am

    Now re-read the Sermon on the Mount. Is it a guide for proper living, or a set-up for failure so we will turn to God? Or both? I’m not asking this facetiously. It has been on my mind for many years.

  14. Steve Martin on February 22, 2014 at 8:14 pm

    The Sermon on the Mount is a description of what it will be like in God’s Kingdom.

    It’s not meant to spur us on to betterment…but to expose us and our sinfulness.

    And then drive us to our Savior.

  15. Frank McIntyre on February 22, 2014 at 10:16 pm

    Thanks, all, for the great comments.

    Dave,

    I’m all for optimism. (Although an optimist is just somebody who is usually disappointed.) So it can help to understand what exactly we should be optimistic about. Think of this as a little reminder of the grace side of the ledger, which we should get once in a while.

    John C.,

    My point was that we should recognize that arguing a commandment is very difficult is not obviously a good argument when the Plan of Salvation is written as it is. The plan is entirely designed to deal with the fact that commandments are hard and we will fail. In fact, it almost relies on it.

    “blithely arguing that it was meant to be hard for these others exhibits a lack of both empathy and reflection on our part.”

    I don’t know that I did anything blithely. I thought very carefully about the plan of salvation and this is a thought I had. As Craig points out, it is not a new thought. It is as old as they get. Eve did not blithely eat the fruit. But she knew that those hardships would be, in the end, a blessing to her and her children. Weakness, and seeing our weakness is what brings us to turn to God. Recognizing that is not blithe.

    ” I have a harder time understanding him insisting on harming someone to achieve some good.”

    Coming to the earth pretty much guarantees that. Giving contradictory commandments in the garden did that. I think this is a pretty important point. Presumably it was part of why many people did not like the plan of salvation when it was presented. In fact, the atonement itself is about “inflicting harm to achieve some good.”

    “But I don’t like to pretend unnecessary suffering is ennobling.”

    Well you said “unnecessary” suffering so of course it can’t be useful by definition. But yes, sometimes suffering is ennobling. (Please don’t twist this to suggest that I am saying we should go out and try to cause suffering. I didn’t say that anywhere.)

  16. ideasnstuff on February 23, 2014 at 12:48 am

    Steve, I’ve always thought that would have to be the evangelical Christian point of view. But the sermon is not given as a description. It is given in imperative verb forms: as a set of instructions or commandments, including the instruction to “be perfect”. I agree that turning to, or being driven to, our Savior and being transformed by Him, is the only way to fulfill that commandment.

    At the same time, the principles of the Sermon on the Mount have great practical value. If more people were to try to live its principles, however imperfectly, and regardless of whether they turn to Jesus as Savior and Lord, the world would be a much better place.

  17. Aaron on February 23, 2014 at 6:58 am

    …but according to Pres. Benson, the real value of humility is that we choose it freely and willingly, that it not be forced upon us. Suffering does not necessarily make one humble. Sometimes it makes one angry, mean, vengeful.

  18. Steve Martin on February 23, 2014 at 10:30 am

    ideasnstuff,

    It is description…not prescription.

    There’s no possible way that anyone could attain the goodness described therein (except Jesus Himself).

    “If you are angry with your brother, then you are a murderer.”

    How many of us aren’t guilty then?

    It exposes us.

    Then, right after the SotM. Jesus comes down from the Mount and crosses path with the most sinful (the embodiment of sin) of people, a leper.

    The leper says, “Jesus, heal me if you will.”

    And Jesus says, “I will.” And the leper is healed and clean.

    There it is. The law/gospel paradigm.

  19. Chris on February 23, 2014 at 6:42 pm

    The Sermon on the Mount is simply the way to love God, ourselves, and others more fully so that, through the atonement of Christ, we become whole (Greek translation of perfect.) We will not become perfect in this life, but we can daily feast on God’s love for us and seek to radiate that love to others. God loved us so much that He sent His Son to die for us and to redeem us from our sins and mistakes. What wonderful news!

  20. Adam G. on February 24, 2014 at 5:10 pm

    Frank M.,
    I think it not only is set up that way, I think it has to be set up that way. We can’t learn except by doing, and imperfect beings, i.e., the kind that need to learn, will fail when they do.

  21. John C. on February 24, 2014 at 11:07 pm

    “My point was that we should recognize that arguing a commandment is very difficult is not obviously a good argument when the Plan of Salvation is written as it is.”
    Okay. I agree with this.

    As for the rest of your response, I think I see the key difference in our communication. You are emphasizing self-sacrifice (Eve’s, Christ’s). I’m considering the effect this rhetoric has when we apply it to other’s people’s potential sacrifices. I agree that make the choice to self-harm for one’s own or another’s good can be ennobling and useful. Setting aside the Atonement, there is the example of physical exercise. However, I’m skeptical that we should use that model as justification for causing harm to others.

    We need other justifications (I’m sending you to your room for yelling at your brother, because I know you’ll need the bond of love later in life and cannot allow you to break it in youth (or something similar)). So, the question to for people facing hard commandments, is what justification is sufficient? Certainly, if we don’t have a rational justification, we can choose to evoke faith. But we’d probably be very, very certain that our command then represents the will of God for that individual.

  22. RW on February 26, 2014 at 11:19 am

    God’s plan has to encompass the vast sweep of human history, maybe starting even a million years ago. Those people – taking care of each other and loving children, and believing in an afterlife.

    I like the metaphor: Life is Boot Camp. It implies that life is the opposition to eternity. If this metaphor is accurate, just having gotten through boot camp is the definition of success. And no one expects to really succeed in boot camp, just varying degrees of coping.