One of the things about being raised dye-in-the-wool Catholic is, you never say life is unfair. Seldom, if ever, do you not get something good you deserved, and never do you get something bad you didn’t have coming. It may not be clear what it is, but you could take it to the bank. If I bumped my head on the low-hanging light fixture in the dining room, it was definitely reproof for something. Catholics– real Catholics– bear their misery with wistful sighs and Gaelic ballads (I hear cattle on the hill with no one there to tend them …). You just keep trying not to be bad, and roll with the punches. “It was meant to be” covers a myriad of circumstances.
However, when I think of the rules of Mormon gospel living, I think of a formula that’s supposed to be more controllable. D&C 130:20-21:
“There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated— And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”
Or, as Scotty exclaimed with his impassioned brio: “Ye cannae change th’ laws of physics!”
This we are told repeatedly. Every Sunday in at least one meeting, every conference in at least a half-dozen talks: Disobey: There’s the door. Obey: Cha-ching– blessings galore!
Take the Law of Tithing (–please).
“Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”
Yet, I know full tithe payers who can’t find jobs and shop at the bishops’ storehouse. I am then persuaded to believe the blessings are there, they’re either on their way– forestalled to make room for valuable trials of faith– or they’ll be manifested as something totally unexpected… like maybe a daughter giving up her emo boyfriend and going back to seminary.
For example, when I was a 17-year-old Catholic kid in Utah, Dad got a new job in another state and was getting ready to move us up to join him, but then he dies in a car wreck. Before that incident, I prayed more than I ever had, thanking God to be getting out of Mormon country and asking that we’ll be happy in our new home. Instead, Dad checks out and we’re left behind in Zion. Mom was scared; I was just confused. Five months later, I have this spiritual experience and become a Mormon. That particular prayer of faith didn’t exactly reap the kind of blessings I was expecting. But it did create a lifeline between my family and the Lord’s Church, and ultimately we will be happy in our new home.
On the other side of the coin, when I think of the cause and effect of obedience, I think of Helen Hirsch’s monologue in Schindler’s List:
“We were on the roof on Monday, young Lisiek and I, and we saw the Herr Kommandant come out of the house on the patio, right there below us. And he drew his gun, and shot a woman who was passing by. Just a woman with a bundle, just shot her through the throat. She was just a woman on her way somewhere– she was no faster or slower, or fatter or thinner, than anyone else. And I couldn’t guess what had she done. The more you see of the Herr Kommandant, the more you see there are no set rules you can live by. You cannot say to yourself, “If I follow these rules, I will be safe.”
I know and believe that Father knows what’s best for me, that He sees things I don’t, that His value set is different from mine, that His timetable runs off a different clock and His toe taps to a different rhythm. And over the course of my life, I have received countless, wonderful blessings, I can’t even begin to tally them. But sometimes the inconsistency of cosmic cause and effect just really bugs me.
As with probably a lot of you, my favorite talk this last general conference was President Uchtdorf’s “Continue in Patience,” delivered during the priesthood session (is it just me, or are all the best conference talks reserved for the priesthood session?).
The irony, of course– it being my favorite talk– is that I hate all things sloow practically more than anything else this mortal frame has to endure. I don’t wait for the microwave to ding before I pull out my pot pie; I’ll sigh audibly when the benediction-giver gets inspired to pitch a litany of random supplications (oh, by all means, yes, bless Octomom…); Those days when 14.4k was the cutting-edge in Internet speed? It was like staying at the Hanoi Hilton (yes! yes! I’ll tell you anything– just load, you damned Web site!); And in the buffet lines… you see that look of contempt you get if you try to pass one of those heavy thinkers? For heaven’s sake– take the peas, don’t take the peas! It’s not like deciding whether to cut the red wire or the blue wire!
So, getting back to blessings. Apparently it’s not enough just to obey the commandments to receive their designated blessings, and it isn’t even quite enough to obey in faith. We must also obey with patience. As per President Uchtdorf:
“Nevertheless, without patience, we cannot please God; we cannot become perfect. Indeed, patience is a purifying process that refines understanding, deepens happiness, focuses action, and offers hope for peace.”
One could argue that the requirement of patience is implied in every commandment (frankly, I think that’s a rook, but whatta ya gonna do?). Still, the thought that “without patience we cannot please God” is troubling. As I’ve made clear, I’m not a patient person, and the idea that perhaps I’ve polluted my service and obedience with my impatience makes me feel… vulnerable. And apparently, without patience we’re pretty useless to the Lord:
“Let us always remember that one of the reasons God has entrusted the priesthood to us is to help prepare us for eternal blessings by refining our natures through the patience which priesthood service requires.”
There’s a lot more; it’s a great talk. The ultimate point of it was, “Patience is not simply enduring; it is enduring well!” President Uchtdorf’s talk did have an effect on me, and I’ve tried to exercise more patience out in the world. I think I’ve improved– not without slips, of course.
But that doesn’t help me resolve my issue with the promises of causality, not really. Obey and be blessed; maybe not right away, maybe not the way you expect to be, maybe not in this lifetime. Sometimes no answer is your answer.
But, here’s the rub: Despite all of that, I have faith. I know Who puts the kibbles in my bowl. I know where the love in my life comes from. I know where to go when my heart is battered and bloody. I know the blessing will be coming, eventually, exactly when it’s supposed to. And I know everything will be all right.
I just wish… you know… the cause and effect thing.