Friday, October 24, 2014

A Mormon Version of Cheap Grace

An amateur theologian hiding behind the ironic pseudonym "Um, Not Quite the Truth" (in the comments here) is advocating a form of cheap grace for Mormons:
Dan [Peterson] wrote: "[C. S.] Lewis’s observation rings absolutely true for anybody who has ever been the surprised victim of scheming intrigue and betrayal by false friends."

Thank goodness this type of behavior is few and far between among LDS, thanks in large part to living the Gospel.

Also, on those rare occasions when this does happen, we've been taught to quickly forgive and move on. Just as the Savior has done with us and our trespasses to others.
A little later, this armchair theologian observed:
No one knows more about "double-dealing" and "betrayal" more than the Savior. That's why it's so fundamentally important to quickly forgive and move on. Just the Savior has commanded.
These are watered-down and potentially self-serving sentiments. They fall into the category of what Elder Jeffery R. Holland here called "a kind of theological Twinkie—spiritually empty calories."

True, we are commanded to forgive. For example, God tells us:
I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men. (D&C 64:10)
But one will search the scriptures in vain to find the adverb quickly applied to the verb forgive. Neither the Savior nor anyone else in the scriptures commanded us to forgive quickly. I think God, who is wiser than we are and knows much more about repentance and forgiveness than we do, knows that some things are not easy to forgive and may not be possible for us to forgive without God specifically bestowing grace on us to forgive.

Let us take the specific example of betrayal. Jesus, whom we betray from day to day in our own petty way, suffered betrayals both large and small. Thus, it might be worth looking at what he had to say about betrayal:
And as they did eat, he said, Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.

And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I?

And he answered and said, He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me.

The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born.

Then Judas, which betrayed him, answered and said, Master, is it I? He said unto him, Thou hast said. (Matthew 26:21–25)
The same sentiment is repeated in the other gospels:
woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! good were it for that man if he had never been born. (Mark 14:21)
And truly the Son of man goeth, as it was determined: but woe unto that man by whom he is betrayed! (Luke 22:22)
Jesus answered them, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil? He spake of Judas Iscariot the son of Simon: for he it was that should betray him, being one of the twelve. (John 6:70–71)
In every one of the gospels, Jesus condemns his former friend who betrayed him. We are never told that he forgave him at all ("I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive"), much less that he forgave him quickly and moved on. Jesus explicitly said it would have been better for the betrayer never to have been born.

God tells us that for certain sins it is difficult to obtain forgiveness and for one or two it is not even possible. But he reserves those decisions for himself. He commands us to forgive, but knows that in some circumstances this can be a very difficult thing to do.

The Coptic expression for forgiving is kō ebol. One could translate it with the popular expression "Let it go!" but that makes it look easy. One could also translate it with the verb abandon as though we needed only leave others' sins by the wayside. But it is also the expression used in pre-Christian legal contracts for divorce, which even then were sometimes ugly, messy, difficult and protracted affairs. Forgiveness can be like trying to get a messy divorce from a forced marriage to someone we never liked or wanted to be married to in the first place.

To some individuals is granted the grace to be able to forgive even awful things like abuse, molestation, rape, betrayal, infidelity, murder, torture, or persecution quickly and easily. We stand in awe of those who can do so. Yet, for others forgiveness is a protracted and difficult process. Those of us who are untouched by their afflictions should not stand by unmoved by their afflictions and pat ourselves on the back about what better Christians we are for being unwilling or unable to shoulder their cross.

And now we come to where forgiveness can be like cheap grace. Some people want others (including God) to forgive them cheaply and easily for deep and grievous wounds without producing any fruits of repentance, without trying in the least to repair the wrong that they have done or even acknowledging that they have done it (see Alma 39:13 in the critical text). Expecting forgiveness without repentance denies repentance, one of the core elements of the gospel of Christ (3 Nephi 27:13-21). Cheap grace also denies repentance by claiming that God dispenses unmerited grace while we persist in our sin. Both cheap grace and telling others to forgive without repentance deny the gospel of Christ.

I suppose that the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan might have called out to the man on the side of the road that he needed to "quickly forgive and move on" but would that really have been practically different than passing by on the other side?

Just because forgiveness is essential does not mean that it is easy.