...the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center. (Isaiah 16:2)Most are familiar with this reaction. This was the reaction of the rich person Jesus commanded to give away his possessions.
But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions. (Matthew 19:22)The second reaction is to recoil because what is revealed seems immoral. Nephi believed the Spirit's request to kill Laban was immoral:
And it came to pass that I was constrained by the Spirit that I should kill Laban; but I said in my heart: Never at any time have I shed the blood of man. And I shrunk and would that I might not slay him. (1 Nephi 4:10)I don't meet many who recognize that they would recoil from something that is true because it seems wrong. We seem to assume that we have the capacity to discern between good and evil, even though the scriptures adequately demonstrate that this is not the case. For example:
...because of the fall our natures have become evil continually... (Ether 3:2)
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:9)Our inherent ability to discern between right and wrong has a name in scripture: the natural man. It is the opposite of being guided by the Spirit. The things the Spirit teaches us are foolishness to our natural understanding:
But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14)Here is a simple test to prove my point. Which of these things that God sometimes does do not seem repugnant to you?
- Killing babies.
- Giving Grannies cancer.
- Commanding his armies to kill women and children.
- Commanding men to marry multiple wives.
- Commanding people to lie.
Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20)The reaction to Jesus' ministry is more evidence for this principle. Did people hate Jesus because he asked hard things, or because they thought what he taught was immoral?
Many men will say, "I will never forsake you, but will stand by you at all times." But the moment you teach them some of the mysteries of the kingdom of God that are retained in the heavens and are to be revealed to the children of men when they are prepared for them they will be the first to stone you and put you to death. I was this same principle that crucified the Lord Jesus Christ, and will cause the people to kill the prophets in this generation. (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 309)Though some few took issue with the difficulty of his teachings (forgive those who offend you, sell all you have and give to the poor), those who wanted to destroy him did so under the pretense that what he was teaching was morally wrong.
Those who killed Jesus and his disciples thought they were serving God by doing so! (John 16:2) Joseph Smith taught that those who are destined to be limited to the glory of angels are limited not by their desire to do what is right, but because they are unwilling to allow God to challenge their traditional understanding of what is right and what is wrong.
The mystery power and glory of the priesthood is so great and glorious that the angels desired to understand it and cannot: why, because of the tradition of them and their fathers in setting up stakes and not coming up to the mark in their probationary state. (Joseph Smith)
How to avoid this pitfallThe first and best way is to pray and secure revelation.
And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things. (Moroni 10:5)While God can reveal to us the truth of all things, what he will reveal to us is limited by how well we listen and obey to the things he has given us in the past (Alma 12:9). Another way of looking at this is that God will not reveal to you through direct revelation truths pertaining to higher degrees of glory than that which you already possess.
Were we limited only to what God revealed to us through direct revelation, we would know very little indeed about the gospel, because we would not have a way of obtaining truth beyond what we already possess. The solution to this problem was to prepare saviors to condescend below the degree of glory they are entitled to to share greater truths with us.
Ezekiel quotes the Lord in saying that a priest's duty is to
...teach my people the difference between the holy and profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean. (Ezekiel 44:23)This is the pattern demonstrated by Christ himself, and it is repeated with anyone who has obtained any degree of light and truth.
...the Lord God ordained priests, after his holy order, which was after the order of his Son, to teach these things unto the people...they were ordained...from the foundation of the world...on account of their exceeding faith and good works...to teach his commandments unto the children of men, that they also might enter into his rest. (Alma 13:1,3,6)The condescending display of the works and teachings of higher glory beings is the only way God can justly deliver higher truth to lower glory beings.
And by so doing, the Lord God prepareth the way that the residue of men may have faith in Christ, that the Holy Ghost may have place in their hearts, according to the power thereof; and after this manner bringeth to pass the Father, the covenants which he hath made unto the children of men. (Moroni 7:32)If we want to avoid this pitfall, we need to be willing to accept anything God teaches us, any sacrifice he asks of us, whether it makes sense, seems right, or not.
There are a great many wise men and women too in our midst who are too wise to be taught; therefore they must die in their ignorance, and in the resurrection they will find their mistake. Many seal up the door of heaven by saying, So far God may reveal and I will believe. (Joseph Smith)
Putting it all together
We know that higher truth is hard and higher truth is repugnant. We know that something we hear is not false simply because it is hard. We should get to the point where we do not dismiss candidate truth out of hand simply because it is repugnant. When we have the opportunity to witness the behavior or hear the teachings of someone, and they are repugnant, we should ponder whether there is a lesson that God is trying to teach us. We ought to ask God what we lack, and whether this is an opportunity for us to receive further light and truth.
God can only teach us that our traditions are false if we are willing to consider that they are. We cannot afford to set up stakes, or dictate the morality of God. It will put an impassable block between how we currently are and how God is.
"To all those who are disposed to say to set up stakes for the almighty— will come short of the glory of god. To become a joint heir of the heirship of the son he must put away all his traditions. Men will set up stakes and say thus far will we go and no farther, did Abraham when called upon to offer his son, did the Saviour, no..." (Joseph Smith)Abraham was willing to kill his son. Abraham and Jacob practiced polygamy. Hosea married a prostitute. Ezekiel was willing to make a cake over dung. Isaiah walked around naked for 3 years. Samson whole life is repugnant to those who do not know God. Joseph Smith was regarded as bombastic and pompous. Noah drank a lot of wine. And so on.
Are these examples of imperfection? Some would say so. And yet, in order to receive a fullness of the priesthood, a man's heart must become so much like God's (or his desire so subject to God's) that he will not ask anything that is contrary to his will.
And now, because thou hast done this with such unwearyingness, behold, I will bless thee forever; and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed, in faith and in works; yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will. Behold, thou art Nephi, and I am God. Behold, I declare it unto thee in the presence of mine angels, that ye shall have power over this people, and shall smite the earth with famine, and with pestilence, and destruction, according to the wickedness of this people. Behold, I give unto you power, that whatsoever ye shall seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven; and thus shall ye have power among this people. (Helaman 10:5-7)Therefore, we ought to seriously consider that these repugnant actions of men with the fulness of the priesthood might be righteous after all. We ought to consider these as God's way of helping us see what we lack. We should ask him about them.
Some of the most repugnant examples come from the life of Christ himself. Jesus called people bad words, physically abused some that disagreed with him, and befriended prostitutes and traitors. Contemporary ideas of Christ are whitewashed and effeminate. Even contrarian accounts, such as that depicted in "Beautiful Outlaw," are insidiously skewed towards what how would like to think he is rather than how he actually is. Joseph Smith taught succinctly:
"Some of the company thought I was not a very meek Prophet; so I told them: 'I am meek and lowly in heart,' and will personify Jesus for a moment, to illustrate the principle, and cried out with a loud voice, 'Woe unto you, ye doctors; woe unto you, ye lawyers; woe unto you, ye scribes, Pharisees, and hypocrites!' But you cannot find the place where I ever went that I found fault with their food, their drink, their house, their lodgings; no, never; and this is what is meant by the meekness and lowliness of Jesus.'' (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 270)
"Have not the least idea but if Christ should come and preach such rough things as he preached to the Jews, but this Generation would reject reject him for being so rough." (Words of Joseph Smith, 11 Jun 1843)
"It always has been when a man was sent of God with the priesthood and he began to preach the fullness of the gospel, that he was thrust out by his friends, who are already to butcher him if he teach things which they imagine to be wrong; and Jesus was crucified upon this principle." (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 310)All children complain about what their parents teach them. Our 4 year old is constantly complaining about how what we tell him is incorrect, unfair, etc. Yet, his understanding of right and wrong is severely restricted compared to ours.
For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father. (Mosiah 3:19)To be a good child, he needs to do what we say out of his trust in us, even if it doesn't make sense to him. If he listens, one day it will make sense to him. It is the same with us and God.
If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. (John 7:17)