Tuesday, August 18, 2009


I've been thinking a lot about obedience lately.

My thoughts on obedience at this point are that it is at the same time the first Law of Heaven and a response rather than an independent action. It seems that when we really have a perfect knowledge of the origin of commandments being God and a perfect trust in Heavenly Father's love for us to the point of knowing that He only asks us to do those things which will benefit us, we naturally and instinctively obey those commandments perfectly. It is not hard for us. Without a perfect knowledge of either the source of a command or the subsequent knowledge of His love and an assurance of His motivation, obedience can become a challenge. In fact, when obedience is relatively easy in the absence of those two things, I'm not sure it can truly be called obedience.

There is a caveat. Faith is knowing. It is not a perfect knowledge, but it is a certain level of knowledge that can motivate us to a corresponding level of obedience.

We can only truly act according to our knowledge. This is why Adam's “obedience” in the Garden of Eden was not what the Lord was after. Adam was perfectly obedient, but the Lord was not satisfied. Why? Because Adam did not have a knowledge of good and evil. He was as a child who obeyed only because he was told to and knew nothing else. That wasn't enough for God. Perhaps the symbolism of the obedience of a child, like any symbolism, can be taken too far. I think that the Lord wants us to obey for the some of the reasons a child obeys but not others. He wants us to obey because we trust Him, love Him, and want to be more like Him. I'm not convinced that our Father is pleased when we obey because we are afraid of punishment, because we want Him to like us, or because we simply don't know better.

It seems that obedience, then is not prerequisite to righteousness or knowledge rather an indicator of these things. A person who is not obedient does not have a problem with obedience. He has a problem with knowledge. He has a problem with faith. I think this is why God is so pleased when we are obedient. It is a sign that we are coming to know Him. It seems that if this were not so, everyone could reasonably be expected to live perfectly. Just be obedient, right? But we aren't. That obedience comes line by line, precept by precept, just as knowledge also comes.

It's interesting though, that while obedience is the natural result of knowledge, it is also the way by which we gain knowledge. At first this seemed very contradictory to me. But in that sentence, the references to the word 'knowledge' refer to two different things. Think about a set of stairs. One level of knowledge leads us to an act of obedience that elevates us, bringing us new knowledge which leads us to another act of obedience. The process is gradual and, as far as I can tell, not one we will finish any time soon.

But where does the process start? It seems that if knowledge is a prerequisite for true obedience, we have to start with some knowledge. I believe that this is the responsibility of the Light of Christ. Without it, we would all be lost, without the needed tools to help us find our way. However, with the Light of Christ helping us discern the most basic truths, such as the existence of a God, or the importance of family, we have a foundation on which we can begin the smallest steps of obedience. When obedience comes from knowledge, from faith, it will lead to more knowledge, leading to greater obedience.

So, if I have trouble living obedient to a certain commandment, say not watching R-rated movies, I have to remember that the root issue is not obedience. I'm not just weak or uncommitted to the gospel, and I don't just need more willpower. I don't have to be hard on myself. What I need is more faith in the commandment. I need more knowledge about that commandment. I don't mean that I always need to understand the “why” of every commandment I keep. But I do need to have an assurance that it is what Heavenly Father wants me to do. This probably requires prayer. It definitely requires an open heart, a willingness to obey whatever commandment the Spirit delivers. In short, the prayer must be made with real intent. A spiritual confirmation, or testimony, will go a long way toward helping me be obedient, but it usually isn't enough.

We receive that knowledge, that faith, through obedience to the commandments that form the staircase up to the commandment we are currently working to master. I believe that is why new converts aren't immediately asked to live the Law of Consecration. In the same way, if I am having trouble keeping a commandment, I'm probably not doing some of the smaller things that would lead me to the knowledge I need to keep that commandment. So instead of getting frustrated with my weakness, I could look at my life to see if there is some other commandment that I might obey more fully in order to gain the faith necessary to obey.

I'm still working on this. I'd love input whether you agree or disagree.

(Disclaimer: I firmly believe that addictions do have the power to take away our agency and are not usually overcome by “spiritual” solutions alone. However, truly gaining the faith/knowledge of the power of the Savior's atonement and of the goodness in God's command will help immensely in the battle.)