Saturday, July 23, 2011

D&C 59

Recently, I was reading the April 2011 General Conference address by L Tom Perry, in which he discusses the importance of Sunday worship and partaking of the sacrament, in his talk, Elder Perry refers to D&C 59, so I spent some time in that section this morning and found some interesting ideas and themes about the sabbath and God's commandments.

First is the audience for this section is very clearly the members of the Church (as opposed to other sections directed to the world as a whole): “blessed are they whose feet stand upon the land of Zion, who have obeyed my gospel” (verse 3). And immediately they are given the promise that they shall receive “the good things of the earth.” The tone for the beginning of the section is a positive one of encouragement for righteous living.

These blessings are continued in verse 4, with a very peculiar promise: “And they shall also be crowned with blessings from above, yea, and with commandments not a few.” The idea of commandments being a blessing is rather contrary to the typical view of commandments as a list of verboten acts, the “thou shalt not”-type commandments. But clearly the Lord is recasting the idea of what a commandment is—a means whereby His children can receive the eternal blessings He has in store for them.

Starting in verse 5 we get some of the specific commandments being emphasized. First, love God with all your being. Next, love your fellow men, which includes not harming them through theft, adultery, murder, or “anything like unto it.” It is this last phrase, which has been interpreted in some very fundamentalist ways that interests me here. Obviously, things like stealing include lying, cheating, and committing fraud, areas where we can easily justify ourselves if we let self-interest win out over our love for others.

But I see in the idea of things like adultery and murder a clear injunction about the kinds of entertainment we seek. Pornography is the easy one here, as adultery is made virtual through the vicarious participation in sexuality. But even more benign depictions of sex—even things that might have been permissible a generation ago (I'm thinking specifically of the innuendo of sitcoms I watched regularly as a teenager)—place us in a position of fantasizing, objectifying, and escaping the realities of life and our relationships with other people.

I see a lot of my students whose ability to interact with other people in positive and meaningful ways has been stunted by warped and selfish portrayals of human sexuality. The men objectify the women, and the women strive to find self-worth through physical appearance alone. It can result in a very shallow existence.

The same is true of violence, especially in gaming situations where the first-person player has to fight off enemies. Even if it doesn't lead to real-world violence, it makes us insensitive to real human suffering, making war more palatable and violence in our own relationships more common.

The next two commandments we receive have to do with acknowledging the Lord's hand in our lives. In verse 7 we are commanded to thank the Lord in all things, and in verse 8 to sacrifice, the sacrifice we are asked to make being humility. Knowing from whence come the good things in our lives leads us then to the humility needed to become more worthy of those blessings.

And finally, as we come to love and serve God and other people and humble ourselves in gratitude, we are to keep ourselves clean by partaking of the sacrament. A clear continuation of the command to be humble, sabbath worship requires us to recognize that however good we may be, we will inevitably fall into selfishness and sinfulness if we do not constantly renew our connection with God through the sacrament.

I find this pattern to be both inspiring and challenging. I know I can do this because I can start where I am and work on the next step. But I also know that I cannot afford to stagnate, to backslide, to let up. And if I find that more is asked of me, then I know that I'm at least moving in the right direction and receiving the blessing of commandments not a few.”

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