Friday, October 31, 2008

Divine Permissiveness and Christlike Love

"Let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love" (1 John 4:7-8).

In Christendom, much is made of our loving God. At times, we even make the mistake of contrasting the love and mercy of the "God of the New Testament" with what we suppose to be the condemnation and judgment of the "God of the Old Testament," forgetting, it seems, that the Lord "is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever,
and the way is prepared for all men from the foundation of the world, if it so be that they repent and come unto him" (1 Nephi 10:18). The Lord was as loving when He created the earth as He was when He redeemed it, as merciful when He gave the law as when He fulfilled it.

We rejoice in the great love of the Lord. But let us never equate Christlike love with Divine permissiveness. The Lord desires to bless us, and He is bound to bless us when we keep His commandments, but has made it clear that "when when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise" (Doctrine & Covenants 82:10). Our love for God and reception of His love for us are, as the scriptures continually testify, tied to our obedience to His commandments. He commanded the ancient children of Israel "to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, To keep the commandments of the Lord, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good" (Deuteronomy 10:12-13). When we do so, he promises to bless us, "if ye shall hearken diligently unto my commandments which I command you this day, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul...I will give you the rain of your land in his due season...And I will send grass in thy fields for thy cattle, that thou mayest eat and be full" (Deutronomy 11:13-15). Conversely, the Lord promised judgment and speedy destruction as the consequence for the people's rebellion: "Cursed shall be the land...unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, unto destruction, which do wickedly, when they are fully ripe; and as I have said so shall it be; for this is the cursing and the blessing of God upon the land, for the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance" (Alma 45:16).

The Lord has never commanded that we look on with amused indifference or "tolerance" at wickedness. He has commanded us to forgive and love the sinner (for He does), but never to excuse sin. And the way we demonstrate our love for God's children is by keeping the commandments ourselves, as John says: "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous" (1 John 5:2-3). Mormon's love for his rebellious people was demonstrated not by his acceptance of their behavior, but by his prayers for their repentance: "I loved them, according to the love of God which was in me, with all my heart; and my soul had been poured out in prayer unto my God all the day long for them...because of the hardness of their hearts" (Mormon 3:12).

There is an increasingly-prevalent attitude that assumes that God's love, in order to be perfect, must be unconditional, that his approbation and blessings must be extended to all without qualification. C.S. Lewis, writing of this attitude, remarked, "By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively His Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness--the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, 'What does it matter so long as they are contented?' We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven--a senile benevolence who, as they say, 'liked to see young people enjoying themselves' and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, 'a good time was had by all'" (The Problem of Pain).

The God we worship is a being of perfect love. Because of His love, He has given us commandments, and expects us to keep them, since they will make us truly happy. He has given us the gift of prayer, the opportunity to speak to Him and to hear His voice. His love is beyond my comprehension. It is manifest in His Atonement, which gives us the power to repent, to change, and to become like Him. His love encourages us to come unto Him and become like him, as Mormon exhorted his people, "Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure" (Moroni 7:48).

How glad I am that, instead of a doting Grandfather in Heaven, we have a glorious Father in Heaven who cares enough about our eternal happiness to give us commandments that will help us to become like Him and enter into His rest, "having [our] garments the kingdom of heaven to go no more out" (Alma 7:25).

"And the first fruits of repentance is baptism; and baptism cometh by faith unto the fulfilling the commandments; and the fulfilling the commandments bringeth remission of sins; And the remission of sins bringeth meekness, and lowliness of heart; and because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love, which love endureth by diligence unto prayer, until the end shall come, when all the saints shall dwell with God"(Moroni 7:25-26).


  1. Your point on the unconditional love of God is well taken. I did a quick search on for that phrase and most references refer to our human need to express unconditional love for others, though Robert E. Wells gave a talk in 1987 (The Beatitudes: Pattern for Coming unto Christ), in which he stated: "God's mercy comes from his unlimited and unconditional love for us. Likewise, we should show mercy to others because of our unconditional love for them." I'm certain his interpretation of the concept assumes obedience to the commandments as well.

    I do take issue with your interpretation of Mormon 3:12, however, because it does not give sufficient attention to the conjunction "and." Mormon loved them AND prayed for them. Mormon did not necessarily love them exclusively BY praying for them. I believe that as a man of both action and intellect, he probably found many tangible ways to show love for the people, in addition to preaching the word of God and praying for them. No doubt in such terrible conditions of war and social dissolution as he found himself, there was much suffering to be relieved. Mormon happens to be one of my favorite figures in the Book of Mormon, and finding his intellectual fingerprints all throughout the book is part of the testimony of its truthfulness.

  2. Excellent point. I stand corrected.
    For more on unconditional love, you may be interested in Elder Nelson's article in the February 2003 Ensign, "Divine Love." :