Friday, June 21, 2013

The Problem of Reducing Covenants to Contracts

Lately, I have been thinking about the pitfalls of reducing a covenant (promises with God) to merely a contract. We are taught numerous times that if we do our part in keeping the commandments, God will let us prosper. In other words, if we do our part, God will do his part. This teaching is doctrinally correct; it is ostensibly the "thesis statement" of the Book of Mormon. However, if we only teach that keeping the commandments is merely to receive God's blessings, I believe two problems arise:

1. Our perception of "blessed" versus God's perception of "blessed." We may believe that keeping God's commandments entitles us to certain blessings, which may be delayed or never even come into fruition. We also may equate a "blessed" person with having an easier life, while overlooking the ancient prophets who were forsaken, persecuted, and often alone. Even without taking Christ's Atonement in consideration, His life was one of supreme hardship. So why on earth do we believe that being a disciple of Christ entitles us to an easy life?

2. The problem of motivation. Parents hope that their children are obedient as a result of their love, not because they are trying to reap a kind of reward. Similarly, God also hopes that we will obey His teachings as a result of our love for Him, not merely to receive the blessings that arise with it.

Ultimately, when we talk about our covenants, we need to view God as a loving father who seeks to obtain a relationship with us, rather than someone who is willing to uphold his end of the contract.  I absolutely loved reading Terryl and Fiona Givens' book The God Who Weeps, as it reminded me that God is a vulnerable God. He is grieved when we willfully choose to break our covenants with Him. And in contrast, when we choose to follow Him, God has a fullness of joy that cannot be described.

I recognize that using "contract-like" language when speaking about covenants can be useful for those with a rudimentary understanding of Mormon doctrine. But I hope that we can look at a covenant being beyond a contract; it is an invitation for us to strengthen and maintain our relationship with an omnipotent Father who loves us infinitely and unconditionally. In entering this relationship, we can come to love God more fully, which increases our desire to follow Him. So what does it mean to be blessed? In the end, I think that the definition of a "blessed" person is one who is developing and maintaining this kind of relationship with God and confident of his or her ability to return to His presence.

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