Wednesday, 2 September 2015

There are no absolutes!

In this months post I return to my parable of Adam and Eve focusing on how God communicated with them.  What I'm going to do is show that typically when God speaks to us He does so using a specific pattern and once you know what this pattern is you will find in His messages new insight.

The pattern is the essence of simplicity.  It consists of two parts.  In the first part God typically makes a statement which can be classified as an absolute.  Then He follows this with an exception.  Take the Ten Commandments as examples.  There are five commandments that would seem to argue for the position that there are absolutes.  Take the sin of murder.  It would appear that this is an absolute.  Yet take the example of Nephi slaying Laban.  If the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" was an absolute where would Nephi be?  So in this instance we have an example of an "absolute" with an exception.  And there is always an exception.  Elder Oaks explained it this way in a fireside talk reported in the Ensign of May 2006.

"As a General Authority, I have the responsibility to preach general principles. When I do, I don’t try to define all the exceptions. There are exceptions to some rules. For example, we believe the commandment is not violated by killing pursuant to a lawful order in an armed conflict. But don’t ask me to give an opinion on your exception. I only teach the general rules. Whether an exception applies to you is your responsibility. You must work that out individually between you and the Lord."

Even the next commandment, "Thou shalt not commit adultery", has its exceptions.  We find this exception in the Doctrine and Covenants section 132, verse 41.  If a man be with a woman and she be with another man she has committed adultery unless she was appointed unto her by the holy anointing.  So again we have the exception.

Now returning to my parable of Adam and Eve where is the exception in this story?  And when we reread the scriptures it is clear that God said that Adam could eat of all the fruit of the garden except that of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  Again we have an "absolute" followed by an exception.

One final example should suffice to prove my point and we can turn to my first post and the use of the phrase "save it be".  If you go back and read each verse where this phrase and its companion phrases, "save it were", "save it was" and "save it is" are what you will find is the same pattern where the Lord states an "absolute" then He follows it up with an exception.

The question we might ask is why does God do this?  I'm going to suggest that the reason why He does this is because He wants us to focus on the exception and not the general "absolute".  Once you understand why He does this then this gives a whole different perspective to God's communications to us His children.

You can find more examples in the talks given by general authorities at General Conference.  Almost every talk uses this same pattern.  Joseph called the use of this speech pattern "the mysteries of Godliness".  In D&C 19 verse 6-12 God explained it this way.  He said that while the term "eternal damnation" might be understood as being endless actually what is meant by the use of the word "endless" is that it is one of God's names.  So while it might appear to mean endless damnation it isn't.  God just lets us believe it is endless because it might work upon the hearts of the children of men.  In other words it might scare us into being good.  A lot of what passes across the pulpit in General Conference follows this pattern.  It is meant to scare some of us who need this extra incentive to be good.  For the rest of us it means we can safely ignore this extreme rhetoric.  Unfortunately some of us are troubled by this speech and I'm hoping those who find and read this article will find solace in my words.


As always, comments are welcome.