“There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessing are predicated – And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” Doctrine & Covenants 130:20-21.
If ever a person mistook God for a vending machine, I think she could be found looking through a lens made of this scripture.
It troubles me.
It makes our relationship to God sound like a transaction, like we can cash in our obedience for blessings. And where is grace? When we obtain any blessing from God it is because we were obedient??? I have too many blessings I don’t deserve for that to be true.
For example, I recently took a trip to visit family, alone. As I was leaving our hotel I dropped my wallet, but didn’t notice until we got to my Grandma’s house, two hours away. Amazingly, someone had taken my wallet to the lost and found, nothing missing. He also thoughtfully called my office and left a message telling me it was safe. Without my wallet I don’t know how I would have flown home the next day, and my family really needed me home because without me there the day would have been a scheduling disaster (Uh, hello dear daycare provider, can you keep my kids till 10:30 pm? Yeah, I know the 2 year old has been there since 8:30 this morning…)
Getting my wallet back safe was a blessing, but I did nothing to deserve it. I didn’t pray it safe (by the time I noticed it was missing it was already locked up in the hotel safe), and I felt the light touch of the spirit telling me this wasn’t a reward for any past honesty. It was pure grace. Undeserved and freely given, as so many blessings are.
I think other scripture, particularly King Benjamin’s address (Mosiah 2:18-24), establishes that blessings are not necessarily the result of obedience. So why is this scripture saying they’re connected?
I can accept that good things come from obedience. I think the critical issue is causality. If blessings as a result of obedience require divine thought and action, for example God choosing and bestowing particular blessings in response to particular acts of obedience by us, then that feels transactional, and potentially capricious. But what if there is a law (existing from before the foundations of this world) which dictates that natural consequences will flow from obedience (or disobedience) to moral principles?
For example living honestly brings the reward of having people trust you and not needing to live with anxieties created by lying. Being faithful to a spouse means getting to enjoy intimacy and trust. Not coveting leaves mental space that can be filled by better thoughts. Or for a Mormon-specific kind of obedience, keeping the Word of Wisdom might mean you don’t tempt fate with your predisposition to addiction. All of these blessings are inherent to the behavior, not an external reward layered onto it.
This to me is consistent with the logic of natural laws. When you multiply mass and acceleration you inherently get force. The universe doesn’t wait for God to make the force when a mass is accelerated, it simply exists. Maybe this odd scripture in the Doctrine & Covenants is explaining a natural law. Maybe God’s goodness and wisdom is in giving us commandments or principles that when lived lead naturally to happiness.
I’ve never liked the word obedience. To me it connotes manipulation and control — a person more powerful than me offering a carrot if I’ll comply with his wishes and a sick if I don’t. I can be motivated by carrots and sticks, but I’d like to think I’m more motivated by love. I’d rather use the word allegiance. I’d like to give my allegiance to principles (or commandments, if we must) that are part of equations that naturally yield good things.
Allegiance also leaves room for agency. To be sure some level of agency is exercised when we comply with commandments received from authority. This may be what God has in mind for us, at least initially, as a way of getting us started on right paths. But surely this kind of because-I-said-so obedience is not where we are meant to stay. We are meant to have changed hearts (Alma 5:14), loving good for goodness’ sake. Choosing good because we love God and our neighbors. I think allegiance is obedience with agency fully engaged.
What’s your comfort level with the word obedience? Are you bugged by it, or of all the things to be bugged by, maybe this really doesn’t rise above the noise?