The God We Hold Hostage

I and my good wife went to the temple last night. Through me, through Adam, through Christ, a 17th century Saxon named Christoph H. came into God’s presence. Or came closer to it, anyway.

The temple made me think of Father Adam’s story, which in turn got me thinking about Neuhaus’ December First Things essay. He describes some theologians who argue that since politics and the state are inevitably sinful, Christians should keep well away from them. Neuhaus disagrees and–putting aside the squabblism and snide remarks that happen whenever Nicenean Christians take each other on–I think he’s right.

As best as I can tell, Adam did not want to eat the fruit. He avoided it as a sin. But Eve ate the fruit. When she brought it to Adam and told him, then he then he ate it too. He did the right thing (which means C.S. Lewis just got it wrong in Perelandra). He decided to lower himself with her rather than let her wander alone. The message for us Christians, I think, is that in a fallen world like this we can’t keep our hands too clean or stay aloof. We have to go where the people are and make things work, if messily.

I admit that the Adam and Eve story does give us a contrary example, God’s example. Adam went with Eve but God did not go with Adam. Instead, He drove him out of His garden and set an angel with a flaming sword to keep him from ever coming back. But even then He did what He could to adapt truth and righteousness to Adam’s circumstances and to Adam’s willingness to receive it. He does the same for us. We do not realize what an indignity that is. God makes marvelous and sacred things stupid and little for our sakes, so we can understand them.

And even when He drove Adam and Eve out He knew that someday He would send his Son out into the filth and the power of the fiend, just to find us. He loves us so much that in effect we hold him hostage to our whims and desires. Him! God! He comes to where we are, no matter how demeaning. And of course we think so little of it. We are such sickening creatures.

I have a hard time getting exercised about Theodicy–questions about why God lets bad things and tsunamis happen to us. Partly its because I never really believed that Mormonism, which I believe to be true, was really all that clean, airy, liberal of a faith. Holiness is often as C.S. Lewis described in Till We Have Faces: dank and bloody. But mostly its because I don’t think mankind has much grounds to stand on in our complaints.

I seem to see us conversing with Christ: drink a little from this cup, we say. It’s bitter to the taste, true, but we’re choosing to go into danger and that’s the only way you can rescue us. Drink it, and watch over us while we “find ourselves” and have adventures and learn things and feel fulfilled. I know that cup, he says. It is bitter indeed, and if I drink it I must drink it to the bottom. Well, we’re leaving, we say. You can drink the cup or be left a lone man in heaven. And he does drink the cup, with all its sins, your sins and mine, that have been brewing and burning these many years.

57 comments for “The God We Hold Hostage

  1. Adam,

    Interesting post. I’m not sure that I’m getting it all, but one of the things that resonates with me is the idea that the doctrine of the condescension of God really ought to be absolutely astonishing to us. The Book of Mormon, like no other document, conveys this doctrine with a rhetorical beauty that ought to knock our socks off. And yet, somehow we miss it most of the time, don’t we? I think of Nephi, Abinadi, King Benjamin and Mormon of course; when they speak of these things there always seems to be a kind of flourish (if you will) in their words that can only arise from a profound awe toward the greatness of God.

  2. At the same time be aware of how easy He has made it for us and how we reject it because of the easiness of the way.

  3. Great post, Adam!

    I think we don’t appreciate the condescension very well because we are so accustomed to the squalor we live in! Christ’s birth in such humble circumstances makes the point in part, but only a small part. I suspect the contrast between the usual circumstances of the birth of kings, and Christ’s birth, is mild compared to the contrast between the circumstances of his life among sinful us, and the life in heaven he left, in order to retrieve us from our wandering.

  4. So, um, Adam, has anyone ever told you the *Mormon* version of this story? Y’know, the one where there are conflicting commandments, and Eve is not the weaker vessel who ruins mankind, but instead makes the difficult choice to know evil in order to understand good and gain the potential to become godlike–that whole “opposition in all things” bit? Human beings as “sickening creatures”, separated from God by unbridgeable chasms and deserving of tsunamis and miserable death and the pains of hell seems more Jonathan Edwards than Joseph Smith, don’t you think?

  5. Kristine,

    Since Adam knows “For behold, this is my work and my glory – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” as well as you and I, shouldn’t we look at his statements as done for effect and not for damnation. As we look at the human condition, it is nothing that God didn’t know before He sent us here. Our being here and looking at what He has done for us, can cause us to be hypercritical of ourselves, from time to time, to remind us of our need for humility and to keep our feet on the ground.
    When waxing philosophical on spiritual matters, particularly when focused on the atonement, the chasm is unbridgeable without the atonement. I think that was his point.
    I would agree with you that it is not an indignity for God to condescend to save us; but from a mortal reflection on the depravity that mankind descends to, it is an indignity.

  6. Larry–

    That’s all well and good, but it is not OK to paint all of the nastiness of mortality as Eve’s fault.

  7. Your right.
    In fact if it wasn’t for Eve none of what we have wanted for eternity could be ours. Our love and gratitude for her foresight and decision making can never appropriately be expressed. Adam would never have made the decision to eat first.
    Having said that, from a mortal philosophical perspective on the evil nature of man, it is all Eve’s fault. If Adam had only been obedient and not fallen for Eve’s smile, then none of this would be happening and we would be stuck in the pre-earth existence – still. So, Eve is to blame – and God bless her for that.

  8. The condescension of God manifests itself in unexpected ways. As you may remember, part of the furor over the Da Vinci Code was the suggestion that Christ was married! Many of us in the Church believe that he almost HAD to be, to be an accepted rabbi/teacher.

    I read one refutation of that theory that put Christ’s life into a different perspective for me. Apparently, although it was rare for a rabbi/teacher to be unmarried, there was at least one commonly accepted exception. That exception was that the man was too poor to be married. The Gospels are replete with references to His poverty. But even more compelling, to me at least, was the thoroughness that His unmarried state would give to His knowing our sorrows. The Church (and I mean the “social” Church) makes it difficult for those among us who are, for reasons beyond our control, single or childless. Maybe He knows that sorrow because it was one He suffered, too.

    Not doctrine, but another perspective.

  9. Adam writes,

    “Adam did not want to eat the fruit. He avoided it as sin.” This is curious to me because it assume that an innocent person has knowledge of sin. I don’t think he avoided it as sin since he had no understanding of sin. Adam and Eve were given two contradictory commandments. There was no way for both commandments to be kept. Adam seems to have been focused on staying away from the fruit but forgetting the other commandment altogether. After Eve partakes of the fruit she reasons with Adam. Her reasoning centers on reminding him that they were also commanded to multiply and replenish the earth.

    As Latter-day Saints we often hear that Eve’s act was necessary and beneficial since it continued the progress of plan of salvation. But, the respect we owe Eve is not for a bad choice on her part which happened to have good consequences for the rest of us. On the contrary, in his October 1993 conference talk, “The Great Plan of Happiness” Elder Oaks said, “Informed by revelation we celebrate Eve’s act and honor her wisdom and courage in the great episode called the Fall.” That same conference Elder Nelson also referred to Eve’s “courage and wisdom” in his talk “Constancy Amid Change.” The repetition of the same two adjectives to describe Eve during conference that year has piqued my curiosity about what wonderful sorts of conversations the apostles might have been having that year. At any rate, Eve is lauded by the apostles for her “wisdom”. In May 1997 Elder Holland said, “Yours in the grand tradition of Eve, the mother of all the human family, the one who understood that she and Adam had to fall in order that men [and women] might be.” (brackets original)

    These apostolic descriptions of Eve clearly indicate that her choice was not a sin. Even Joseph Fielding Smith wrote that, “This was a transgression of the law, but not a sin in the strict sense, for it was something that Adam and Eve had to do!” (Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 1, p. 115). Joseph Smith clearly taught that Eve’s act was not a sin since God decreed it (see Words of JS, p.63). Not only was this act not a sin, it seems not to have been a mistake or the result of a deception. If it were she would not be called wise in so acting. We make a lot of the fact that the scriptures say Eve was “beguiled.” The word we translate as “beguile” is a very tricky word to translate in Hebrew. As far as the Temple goes—-Adam, next time you go to the Temple, listen very carefully to what Lucifer tells Eve compared to what he tells Adam. Is Eve deceived? Does Lucifer tell Eve anything that is untrue?

    Lastly, you write that Adam “decided to lower himself with her rather than let her wander alone.” This makes it seem like Adam took pity on Eve. But, that is not the way the Temple portrays it at all. Adam is won over by Eve’s reasoning. She reminds him of the other commandment and he recognized that she is right.

    A more romantic interpretation than either yours or the Temple’s version might suggest that Adam simply decided he would rather die than live without her. And so he literally did.

  10. Retraction:

    In my post above I indicated that the word translated as “beguileâ€? in the KJV is tricky in Hebrew. In my haste I read the word in Genesis 3:13 as “nasaâ€? (with the Hebrew letter “sinâ€?) instead of “nashaâ€? (with the Hebrew letter “shinâ€?) these two letters are only distinguishable by a dot, which I overlooked. “Nasaâ€? is indeed tricky to translate, meaning variously “to bear up, to lift, to exalt, to carry, to forgive, to endure, to support, to sustain, etc. “Nasha,â€? however, is fairly straightforwardly translated as “entice,â€? “allureâ€? or “deceive.â€? Obviously, “nasha” is correct here. That’s what I get for racing through the Hebrew text this late at night.

    The Moses version uses the word “beguile� too so that reading is a legitimate scriptural interpretation regardless of the Hebrew in Genesis. The interpretation in the Temple and from certain apostles does vary from this, however. How one reconciles the various authoritative accounts of the creation and the fall is, I think, a big question.

  11. What is curious to me is that on the one hand we defend Eve, because being innocent she couldn’t sin. Yet simultaneously we praise her for her wisdom and so forth, which seems to go against the reasoning we give to justify her act. Of course such paradoxes shouldn’t be surprisingly, given the inherently paradoxical nature of the account.

    Of course we should praise Eve as doing what we ought. At the same time though I think the account is more complex than either side is accounting for. (And if we really want to make things more complex, consider all the things Brigham said about it – not to mention all the symbolism he saw in it)

    Dealing with the text itself and avoiding the secondary judgments (however impeccable the secondary sources may be) I’d just note that the two main texts (one we can quote, the other which we can’t) it seems like Eve’s understanding and wisdom comes after partaking the fruit. i.e. she probably did the right thing for incorrect reasons, but then in hindsight saw it was the right thing to do, in a weird way in which law, justice and the good come into conflict. (But I’ll spare everyone the commentary on that)

    It seems to me though, that where Eve deserves her praise in a straightforward way is in what transpires after eating the fruit. There she convinces Adam to fall with her so as to ensure the plan of salvation. It seems that if the plan hinged on an important decision it was that one, with the risk of Adam remaining in the garden and Eve being here on earth. But for some reason that whole scenario, which I always pay the most attention to, tends to get neglected a fair bit.

    Of course the real interesting figure in the whole story is not Adam or Eve or even God, but Satan, who ends up helping God even as he tries to mess things up. Further the temple makes that account even more complex and interesting, although I’d be uncomfortable saying too much there. I’d simply point out that Satan’s motivations are difficult to discern.

  12. I realize that this was not intent of Adam, but the comments on this thread have engaged me and I would like to solicit some opinion.

    I recognize that we cannot blame Eve for the current state of humanity, it was inevitable. But I’m slightly uneasy with the trend to laud her actions that induced the fall. It was a transgression of the law for heavens sakes (and so was Adam’s action).

    Some point to the contradictory nature of the twin commandments – but we give the youth similar twin commandments (don’t have sex and be fruitful and multiply). Moreover, the devil’s self defense would suggest that there was a way to partake of the fruit in a manner that was not a transgression. Do we have to twist Eve’s breaking of the commandment of God into a virtue. Is it ever a virtue?…even in order to defy misogyny? I find it incoherent.

    I just noticed Clarks comments before posting this. And agree completely with his post transgression analysis.

  13. I like your thoughts Adam; I’m not sure I fully agree with them, but I like them. (The idea that we are holding God hostage, through His love for us, seems wrong to me, even if it is a rhetorically effective way to make a point. On the other hand, the idea that God has, in a sense, willed to hold Himself hostage, through His creation of this world for us, I think might come closer to the truth. But I’ll write my own post on theodicy one of these days.) I especially like how your thoughts lead away from what you call a “clean, airy, liberal” view of salvation–or, as I take your meaning, the contractarian view which posits our relationship with God to have begun from neutral, mutual premises where everything was spelled out and thus is potentially accountable. I think the condescension puts all such calculation aside.

    As for the (very interesting–thanks for the quick Hebrew lesson, Melissa) discussion of Eve, I agree that there is no basis for interpreting her actions as sinful or culpable–at least, not any more than Adam’s were. They both fell, after all. As for the Fall itself, well, I don’t think Jonathan Edwards was necessarily wrong about everything.

  14. I agree with everything Russell Fox says in his last paragraph (including the equal culpability thing). In my post above I’m emphasizing the peccata in the peccata felix. Others may emphasize the felix without erring. I disagree, however, that the decision that led to the Fall was an unalloyed good. Any choice in which a certain episode with the cross can be foreseen is a pretty mixed one, though ultimately right.

  15. Is it essential to the Mormon faith that the story of the Fall literally happened? It seems difficult to reconcile with evolution. For example, my recollection is that C. S. Lewis (much quoted in Mormondom when convenient) accepted evolution and saw the story in rather metaphorical or mythic terms.

    I’m reminded in a statement by a character in one of Rushdie’s novels—something along the lines of, ‘We can start taking the stories seriously once we stop taking them literally.’

    I’ve wondered over the years if the story of the Fall might be talking in metaphorical terms about goings-on in the premortal life, and not necessarily refer at all to literal events on a supposed paradisiacal earth (which seems dubious scientifically, though one can always retreat to a ’40-acre theory’ of a paradisiacal garden in an otherwise scientifically acceptable earth).

  16. Clark,

    There is certainly scriptural evidence that both Adam and Eve were wise *after* they partook. President Faust, like you, seems to emphasize the fact that this wisdom came only after the Fall:

    “We all owe a great debt of gratitude to Eve. In the Garden of Eden, she and Adam were instructed not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. However, they were also reminded, “Thou mayest choose for thyself.â€?

    The choice was really between a continuation of their comfortable existence in Eden, where they would never progress, or a momentous exit into mortality with its opposites: pain, trials, and physical death in contrast to joy, growth, and the potential for eternal life. In contemplating this choice, we are told, “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, … and a tree to be desired to make her wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and also gave unto her husband with her, and he did eat.�

    After the choice was made, Adam voiced this grateful expression: “Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God.�

    Eve made an even greater statement of visionary wisdom after leaving the Garden of Eden: “Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.â€? (from “What It Means to be a Daughter of God”)

    What’s interesting to me is that these verses from Moses show that they do not regret their transgression. If partaking of the fruit were properly a *sin* it seems that there would be deep sorrow and regret and a need for repentance, none of which we see from them for this act. There have been efforts made to parse the difference between sin and transgression (which I won’t go into here) some of which may accurately reflect the distinction that seems to made in scripture.

    Clark writes, “What is curious to me is that on the one hand we defend Eve, because being innocent she couldn’t sin. Yet simultaneously we praise her for her wisdom and so forth, which seems to go against the reasoning we give to justify her act.” I think this is an excellent point. It does seem difficult to call Eve both innocent and wise in the garden. That appears to me to be what Elder Nelson and Elder Oaks have in fact said about the matter, but there might be, paradoxes here, as you note. The gospel, of course, is full of paradoxes.

    Christian, your question about how to read the Genesis story is an important one and has relevance for how we interpret scripture more generally. I’d like to write a longer comment about this than I have time for now and I don’t think I can really do justice to the topic in the few minutes I have right. I’ll write my own post about this sometime later this month. The very short answer is that there are many legitimate ways to read scripture, including metaphorically.

  17. “As for the Fall itself, well, I don’t think Jonathan Edwards was necessarily wrong about everything.”

    Russell (or Adam), please explain how Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God and the King Follett sermon can inhabit the same theological universe. I just don’t think the view that postlapsarian human beings are utterly depraved, “sickening creatures” has any grounding in LDS doctrine, no matter how nice a rhetorical device it makes.

  18. My view, Kristine, is that it is precisely because we are Gods and heirs to the Gods that our current condition and behavior is so sickening. A King should be a King, even in rags. But I am not.

  19. “Russell (or Adam), please explain how Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God and the King Follett sermon can inhabit the same theological universe”

    They can’t, not in their fullest, most speculative sense. Both sermons can be weighed against the scriptures (both Biblical and restored), and elements of both, or at least potential interpretations of both, can be found wanting. Do I think Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God is true doctrine? No. But do I think that such Calvinism may nonetheless be a useful corrective to some of the more elaborate speculation which followed in the wake of the King Follet sermon (some of which I grant modern day prophets were responsible for)? Yes.

  20. Right. As a doctrine, “utter depravity” fails. But the emotional sense of the sermon is as true, I think, as the King Follet discourse.

  21. “The emotional sense”? C’mon, Adam, even I know to backpedal if I have to rely on the “emotional sense” of something for my argument to work :)

  22. I think you’re missing my argument, Kristine. I’m not now nor have I ever said that we’re utterly depraved. To this extent I disagree with Jonathan Edwards. But I do think the sense we have from time to time that we are worthless creatures is right and proper, and I believe the force and power of Edwards’ sermon comes from appealing to that sense.

  23. Melissa wrote, “A more romantic interpretation than either yours or the Temple’s version might suggest that Adam simply decided he would rather die than live without her. And so he literally did.”

    I’m partial to Twain’s take:

    After all these years, I see that I was mistaken about Eve in the beginning; it is better to live outside the Garden with her than inside it without her.

    From ‘Adam’s Diary,’ by Mark Twain

  24. Christian, we talked considerably about the fall and evolution in several other threads. I’ll not jump into that. I think that Elder Romney had a good point. Adam is our first father but not necessarily the first man on the fallen earth. But he is head of the patriarchal order. So I think one can believe both the historical aspects of the fall as well as in evolution. I think the need to call the fall purely symbolic or metaphorical to be unnecessary.

  25. I am not convinced doctrinally we need the whole earth as the Garden of Eden to be historical, but we certainly need a historical Adam, as the prophet pops up all over the place as doing things and being places in the first and last days.

    In the Fall story, regardless, I think, of the version, we always get this passage:

    “And I, the Lord God, said unto the woman: What is this thing which thou hast done? And the woman said: The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.”

    I am perfectly willing to accept that what Eve did was needed and important. But how should I read the above passage? Was she beguiled? That sounds like a bad thing. It seems to me as if she did not fully understand something and so she was claiming she was tricked by the serpent. The whole story is a little messy to understand, so I’m waiting for someone to unseal the plates or whatever and we can read the clean version from the (real) book of Enoch.

    Or better yet, the book of Adam.

    Better still, maybe Eve wrote her own book.

    But we’d never get that before the Millenium, so maybe she would condescend to just tell me how it was.

    Shy of that, didn’t Elder Oaks give a talk on this ten years ago?

  26. Also, I don’t know about utter depravity, but certainly we have the belief that man’s lack of obedience makes him “less than the dust of the earth”. This is part of both King Benjamin’s sermon and one of Mormon’s sermons in Helaman.

    Since those sermons do in fact inhabit the same “theological universe” as the King Follett discourse (they even have the advantage of being canonized), maybe Edwards is, well, still off, but not by a whole lot. Hard to say because I haven’t read Edwards since high school.

  27. In the two versions of the account we have, referred to by Clark, it seems clear that (1) Adam and Eve made the right choice, (2) the wise insights they have into why it was the best choice come after they’ve already made it and (3) they seem ashamed of what they’ve done and God seems none to pleased. Make of it what you will.

  28. Melissa: I look forward to your future post.

    Clark: Thanks for the tip on the evolution thread, which predated my participation here. I should read that before making further comment, but even so I’ll venture to say now that the idea of creating a human species by evolution (without God-begotten spirits), followed by plucking two individuals out, making them immortal, and sticking God-begotten spirits in them, only to make them mortal again, is totally bizarre. Part of what such a view neglects is that our species depended on social groups long before homo sapiens came around; it’s difficult for me to see an Adam and Eve striking out alone.

    Frank: You’re definitely right about Adam popping up as a historical figure, e.g. in Secs. 107 and 138. It seems to me that Joseph definitely increased the stakes by making Adam more literal/historical than the original Biblical narratives. (He also made the introduction of death by the Fall more literal/historical too, in both the Book of Moses and the Book of Mormon.) I note that Sec. 107, at least much of it, and maybe parts of 84 too, do not have the same narrative style as other “Thus saith the Lord” first-person revelations, but are more like doctrinal expositions… I wonder if this provides any wiggle room for their literal accuracy… Also the 138 reference would have to be explained away as visionary symbolism.

    Frank again, on the pessimistic tone of the Book of Mormon vs. the optimistic KFD: this could simply represent an evolution in Joseph’s ideas. If one takes the view that he invented theology as he went along based on various influences—instead of receiving the totality by revelation—the problems of reconciling different doctrines evaporate like dew before the sun. Consistency no longer required, or even expected.

  29. OK, Adam, I think we probably agree more than not–human beings as both terribly estranged from God, in thrall to evil *and* children of God with limitless potential is one of those paradoxes that lets us keep lots of great sermons and respond to different aspects at different times. Which is a great thing, because I’m really hoping that Jonathan Edwards will do an encore performance that I’ll get to see someday (right after Eve sets us all straight).

    Mostly, I just wanted to provide some diversion for Nate.

  30. Christian,

    You seem to be under the impression that Joseph wrote those passages in the Book of Mormon. You further wish to say that KFD might be an evolution in his thinking. You seem to think that by getting rid of Joseph’s truth claims one needn’t worry about him being consistent. But

    1. I see no inconsistency between the two passages. KFD talks about our potential should we follow God, the BoM about the fact that disobedience makes us nothing. I am confused about why you think these are inconsistent.

    2. Nephi has already dealt with this issue wholly within the pages of the BoM. In 2 Nephi 4 he glories in both having seen visions and angels, and in his sinful state. Thus their is no need to create stories of “evolution in thinking”. Rather we are faced with the fact that mankind is capable of great highs and lows.

    3. As you may have noticed, Joseph didn’t write the Book of Mormon. If you think he did, all I can say (on this thread) is that I feel sorry for you.

    I also don’t see any particular “paradox” in the fact that we can be both great and horrible. But my definition of paradox is somewhat more strict than that employed by the more literary among us.

  31. Frank,

    I think you’re right that there’s not necessarily an insurmountable inconsistency. I haven’t taken the trouble to do any serious analysis—just general impressions of tone.

    In the Book of Mormon there seems to be an awful lot of language like `natural man,’ ‘worthless and fallen state,’ ‘carnal, sensual, and devilish,’ `lower than the dust of the earth,’ ‘children of the devil,’ etc. Man can be saved, to be sure, but this pessimistic outlook seems to be the default view of man. This type of language seems consonant with the Puritan/Calvinist outlook mentioned above, which Joseph absorbed as part of his heritage. (In his history, he speaks of ‘often feeling condemned’ as a youth for his flaws.)

    But perhaps Joseph outgrew this outlook as he matured. Growing in confidence and exposed to a wider range of ideas, he could forge a different theology more compatible with his `native cheery temperament’ (and perhaps also his sexuality—as I recall, in the manuscript sources of JS-H, carnal desires were one of the things he felt condemned for, something left out in our current PofGP version). At some point, maybe after the doctrine of being literal children of God comes along, you don’t seem to hear the pessimistic view of man coming out of Joseph Smith anymore. Indeed, we don’t hardly hear it today—which made Adam’s original post fresh to our ears, which have been accustomed to hearing how much _worth_ we have as children of God, as opposed to our _worthlessness_.

    A more believing interpretation of this difference in tone might attribute it to a cultural characteristic of the ancient Nephites instead of Joseph’s Puritan heritage.

    I do have some strong doubts these days, and some of my posts reflect a particularly doubting interpretation. I am open to various viewpoints at this stage, and appreciate the opportunity to do some armchair theorizing here in a way that cannot be done in Sunday School. Anyway, thanks for your concern.

  32. I’m somewhat surprised that so many of the comments on this thread have focused on the precise nature of the Fall. It’s all been quite interesting, but I don’t think it reflects “the emotional sense” of Adam’s original post. That sense made me want to fall to my knees in awe before a God in bondage, a God who walked among the fallen and the lost, a God who bore the burden of pain and inadequacy and sin and called that burden light. We may hold God hostage, but not because we have chosen Him. He has chosen us, chosen to take the risk and make the sacrifice of giving Himself to us in love.

    Then again, sometimes we do try to hold God hostage, but we go about it the wrong way. Jacques Ellul wrote (paraphrasing), “We do not actually want an ongoing relationship with God. That would be too difficult. We want a list of fifty things to do so that we can be finished with Him. We do not want to become free through the love of God; we seek to bind him with our petty virtues.” We want God to do our will rather than submitting ourselves to His, modeling our humility and love on the One who said “Thy will be done.”

    God frees us from the bondage of sin, frees us to choose instead to bind ourselves to Him and to our neighbor through love. Real love looks terrifying, all wrapped up in vulnerability and suffering and surrender. But God has condescended to give us that type of love, and I happen to believe that my purpose in life is to learn it.

    Perhaps like Christian, I wrestle with a lot of doubts a lot of the time. But when I feel razed to the ground, this is where I begin trying to rebuild: I believe in love, I believe in God, and I believe that God is love.

  33. Or maybe the contrast is actually what drives us to repentance. I have a love/hate relationship with the “dust” scriptures and/or Adam’s post. Sure we are less than the dust because even the dust obeys God’s commands, but our potential is exalted well above that of the dust (we are, despite our depravity, the crowning jewel of God’s creations). Think Alma’s son’s downtrodden sinful state and his post-repentance desire to “be with God.” The ancients were not devoid of optimism nor were they devoid of the doctrine of humility, but it is that culture’s–and our’s–ability to contrast that two that, drives us, well me, to greater things.

  34. If one were to take a line through Kristine HH, Anna, and Ryan’s comments, you would have a much better understanding of the point I was trying to make and a much better post. Thank y’all.

  35. Anna, I *love* this line: “we seek to bind him with our petty virtues.” I think it describes a peculiarly Mormon temptation–think Grant Von Harrison and every Sunday School discussion you’ve ever been in about “I the Lord am bound…” If there’s one thing that could convince me that humans really are as small and venal as Adam suggested, it’s how readily we take the gospel of Christ–the staggeringly paradoxical, difficult, simple, beautiful, terrible, expansive truth–and turn it into catechisms and checklists and hierarchies of sin that inexplicably rank smoking cigarettes as more offensive to God than a lack of charity.

  36. One comment: I think that much of what is going on here is how we think about Christ not in how we think about Adam. Kenotic Christology tells a story of how Christ first emptied himself of pre-mortal divinity to live as a man, and then after his death and resurrection regained that divinity. Traditional Christianity which Kristine rather inelegantly reduces to Jonathan Edwards emphasizes the first part of this process. Christ is first and foremost the God who becomes Man.

    Mormons emphasize the second part of the story. For us what is important is not Christ’s condecsention but his exaltation. For us, he is first and foremost the Man who becomes God. KDF is remarkable because it takes this particular Christological insight and universalizes it. We are also men who will become gods, and the gods were men who went through the same processes. It is possible, in this rather heady context, to fall into a rather facile liberalism. I think that Adam makes a good point that there is some majesty to the first part of the kenosis that is worth remembering.

  37. Kristine,
    I’m not really a fan of ‘I the Lord am bound . . .” stuff either. I wish it wasn’t in the scriptures. That’s saying a lot, since I’m a way bigger fan of the virtues then you are. I’m drunk on them. I can’t get enough. But even so, is salvation really nothing more than clever use of a manual of regulations provided by a celestial paymaster?

    Yet there it is. “I the Lord am bound . . . ” is part of the scriptures. The best I can figure is that God is willing to put himself in obligation to people who won’t approach him in any other way.

    Also, it’s a useful way of getting over spiritual humps sometimes.

  38. I think Christian is right about the reason for finding Adam’s original post so intriguing. In the Church we are constantly hearing about our divine potential, and seldom about our depravity and nothingness before God. This is primarily the reason that many Latter-Day Saints do not seem properly in awe of the condescension of God. The oft repeated phrase “As man is, God once was, as God is, man may become,� does not exactly spark the Mormon heart to flutter at the unfathomable distance between God and man. If God was once a man, then his condescension into our world (even if by way of His Son) has already been done before and expected. And if our own future is godhood, than are we all not condescending in the same way as Christ did; living a lowly, mortal life in order to one day be exalted and crowned with blessings?

    I myself do not think so. Craving mystery, I have pushed the former manhood of God out of my mind in favor of the absolute worship of Him. Yet I believe that such doctrine keeps Latter-Day Saints from falling on their faces in awe of the Almighty.

    Such lack of awe was one of the major stumbling blocks to my joining the Church. As a Catholic raised to see God as wholly “other� the Mormon church seemed to me to be intent on shrinking God to a size too comprehensible to be worthy of devotion. I just kept asking myself where the worship was. Where was the passion, the mystery, the grace? (When was the last time a sacrament speaker was simply given “grace� as the topic to speak about it? I have never heard it. Yet I have listened to a thousand talks on the Word of Wisdom, Tithing, ect).

    My bishop once informed me that “God� was just another priesthood title, like “Bishop� only much, much higher. And thus the question that nagged me was: why worship God at all?

    Which is a good question, especially since I am teaching the manual lesson “The Elements of Worship� next month. I worship God because He is the giver of life, the source of all good things, the reason I am currently breathing. I worship Him because he is all-powerful and all-knowing. Most of all I worship Him because He IS love. And the beauty of such a reality compels me to me knees.

  39. Quite so, Katie. The doctrine of deification loses its force if God is just another one of the boys.

  40. Kristine and others: if neither Adam nor Eve sinned in the events that led to the expulsion from the Garden, then what are we to make of Moses 6:53, where, speaking to Adam, the Lord says “I have forgiven thee thy transgression in the Garden of Eden”? I know the usual explanation, namely that a transgression isn’t necessarily the same as a sin, but that doesn’t work here. If a transgression needs to be forgiven, then it seems it is a sin.

    Overall I agree with the kinds of things that are being said on this thread, but I think the “solution” is still too easy.

  41. Re: #36-39

    I’m one of those guys who LOVES these scriptures: “I the Lord am bound when you do what I say…” and “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.”

    I was perplexed by Adam’s comment: “We are such sickening creatures.”

    I concede that he appears to be in good company, though. King Benjamin and Mormon are about as good as it gets.

    (It also puts him in company of Brother Millet over at BYU’s religion department. I landed on BYU TV one day as they were re-broadcasting a talk he gave at a BYU women’s conference as he went on for a good 45 minutes with similar self flagellations.
    I assumed Brother Millet took that approach because he was focused on ecumenical efforts with our fellow Christians. They eat that sort of stuff up.)

    As for the ancient prophets using the approach — what they say makes a lot of sense. King Benjamin calls us all “unworthy creaturesâ€? and reminds us of our nothingness without God. We clearly are unworthy of exaltation – though Benjamin also teaches we can become worthy because of the condescension of God. Mormon laments the “nothingness of the children of menâ€? though in the context he seems to be using “nothingnessâ€? as a synonym for foolishness, stupidity, blindness, idiocy, etc.

    But Adam takes it a step further than the prophets and describes humanity as “sickening creatures�. The statement itself is not a major problem and I appreciated the show of humility in general, but I think it is a bit over the top. In fact it could be considered a bit of an offense to God – those are His kids you are talking about! (If I called my mom and told her how all my siblings and I are sickening creatures for not always obeying, I suspect it might not go over well.)

    These posts also voiced a standard complaint other Christians have against us Mormons — that we make God too small and too near. Isn’t a major message of the restoration that humankind is much, much bigger than we thought (at least in potential) rather than that God rather than is smaller than we thought? Isn’t that is a significant part of the good news? Hasn’t it been so since Adam? The restored gospel teaches us God really is very, very near, yet still fully deserving of our worship. It tells us that He really and literally sees us as His children – not just His creatures. Why should we hedge on the good news?

    I do not doubt that when we fail to repent and take advantage of His atonement it does sicken God. But not because we are sickening by nature; because we are glorious by nature. If our nature was not glorious then our failure to repent would not be nearly so tragic. I love those D&C scriptures cited earlier because they are excellent tools to help us see ourselves as we really are and really can be.

  42. Geoff,

    Don’t you think that Adam’s statement reflects just the opposite. He isn’t saying God is too small and too near but, rather, just the opposite. That is why we are such “sickening creatures” because of the great condescension He made on our behalf.
    I believe the statement is over the top, for effect, and not because Adam believes that his children are like vomit and don’t deserve God’s blessings. As adults we often make assinine and narcissistic choices for no other reason than that we can. I believe Adam is addressing those issues rather than our general state as children of our Father in Heaven.

  43. Jim F.,

    When you suggest that the solution is too simple, isn’t that what it is all about, i.e. the easiness of the way, which suggests the solution is simple?

  44. Kristine, here’s the actual Jacques Ellul quote I tried to paraphrase earlier (with a few extra introductory sentences):

    Always–and today more than ever–we like things that we can count on, obvious certainties, a secure future, simple duties, a clearcut line of conduct. The uncertainty of fluctuating things like love and grace horrifies us. Saying that God loves us grants us no reassurance. We would prefer it if he gave us fifty things to do, so that when we had done them we could be at peace. We do not want an ongoing relationship with God. We prefer a rule. It does not satisfy us that God shows grace to us or frees us. We prefer to bind him by our virtues and to be sure that he has no freedom to do with us as he chooses.
    (from The Subversion of Christianity, page 152)

    I feel a little nervous quoting Ellul since I’m not very well-acquainted with his thought, and I suspect much of what he says is rather radical and anti-doctrinal. (It would be silly to expect straight Mormon doctrine from a non-Mormon!) Still, I found this passage thought-provoking.

  45. Larry, we are talking about two different solutions. I was saying that saying that the transgression in the Garden wasn’t really a sin is too simple. You are talking about the solution for the fact that we sin, the Atonement. Of course the easiness of the way is what it is all about, but that’s a different “it.”

  46. Perhaps Jim F. meant simplistic. (I don’t know – just a guess) So, yes it’s simple i.e., we goofed up and now we need some help getting ourselves out of hot water. On the other hand I think we want to be careful not to suppose that we have a grasp on everything that is in the mind of God with regard to our redemption. We really don’t understand to much about the Fall nor what it takes to save us from it (on the part of the Savior) nor what full redemption really is.

  47. It seems to me that the reconciliation between the magnitude of the condescension of God and “I the Lord am bound when ye do what I say” is to be found in understanding what is truly required of us. To receive all that the Father hath, much, much more is required of us than the completion of a few pith tasks. Too often, when we cite “I the Lord am bound when ye do what I say” we are trumpeting the fact that we have kept some pithy terrestrial law, and expect exaltation for it, rather than recognizing that we will always be unprofitable servants, who despite covenanting to give our all to His cause, still struggle with some of the most basic of commandments. Clearly, the Lord is bound when we do what he says, but what is it that he has said? This is the question that must be answered if this principle is to be better understood.

  48. Eve’s words on being questioned on the source of the fall are “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.” The word beguiled implies to me that she was mislead. Not all that the serpent promised her was true. She did die, despite his promises to the contrary, and although she gained the ability to distinguish between good and evil, if she was anything like most of us, it took serious effort and discernment. She was not instantly able to know the difference between good and evil “like the Gods” are able. Thus, even though her reasoning had lead her to the conclusion that the Fall was necessary, her decision was made on false assumptions/pretenses and was therefore not completely good. The result, however, was tremendously good, and it is for this that we commend her.

  49. The Lord does not say that *we* have the power to bind Him per se. He binds Himself to a certain predisposed course of action based upon our willingness to conform to the requirements that He sets forth. Of course, sometimes he allows us to participate in establishing the requirements (and the course of action for that matter). But even so, God is binding Himself by his own word.

  50. One aspect of the events surrounding the fall that impresses me is how rapidly Eve’s eyes are opened. Even Lucifer remarks “…yes, you are beginning to see already…” almost immediately after partaking of the fruit.

    Another sidenote, the promise of Lucifer was that Eve would not die in the same day that she partook of the fruit. Whether spiritual or temporal death, and whether they were explused from the garden within 24 hrs of disobeying Father, I do not know. So, the serpent may have been telling more truth than lie.

    Of course, knowing that some of the events in Eden are symbolic only still leaves us wondering how much literal time elapsed before a sufficient level of discernment had been obtained. Much of the discussion/speculation surrounding the Fall that we have participated in, is due directly to the fact that we are not really sure where to draw the line on what is literal and what is purely symbolic.

    However, even granting that partaking of the forbidden fruit was purely symbolic, and that the exact process of gaining discernment is not now literally understood, we should remember that the symbols, as well as historical facts, have been given to us specifically to teach us certain truths. I think the way that Eve’s rapid eye-opening experience is depicted may be important. Whether literally true or metaphorically true, it doesn’t matter.

    Thank you Adam for initiating this thread, and thanks also to all for the wonderful comments, ideas and insight. You’ve given me much to think about.

  51. Geoff Johnston’s plaintive plea to embrace the Mormon narrowing of the gap between God and us has set me thinking.

    My conclusions are as follows:
    (1) It is not doctrinizing and theorizing that make us think we’re worthless creatures. It is our experience with sin and our growing awareness, as we repent, of the price the Lord God has paid to get us out the hole we’re in. Thus, feeling that we’re ‘sickening creatures’ is natural.
    (2) Mormonism’s narrowing of the gap between God and man makes sense of this feeling.

    If I believed in what Jonathan Edwards believed–if I believed in utter depravity–I would have a hard time caring much about it. My depravity would be innate and inevitable. There would be nothing I could do about it. I would not, in a sense, be responsible for it.

    Similarly, if I just had the traditional Christian view that God was unimaginably distant, I would still have a hard time caring too much about my sins. What are they to HIm? What more could be expected of me? I would be very tempted to believe that I could be punished with a few stripes and there I’d be back in the good graces. Why not? I’m just a child.

    But Mormonism squares the circle. It tells us that God is unimaginably distant from who we think we are. But He’s not very far from who we actually are. We are of his kind. We were meant to, and can, act as he would and as his Son did.

    Imagine God sinning. Think of Christ watching porn. That’s you.

  52. Jim F.,

    Since it is common practice to use the simple term transgression instead of sin, wherein could we look at it in a deeper fashion?
    Would it be in the effects of that act of partaking of the fruit and it’s eternal impact on Adam and Eve and us, or would it be in the individual consequences of their act here, moving them from the presence of God, to what can essentially be described as outer darkness and all that that entailed, thus illustrating the very serious nature of their eating of the forbidden fruit?

  53. Imagine God sinning. Think of Christ watching porn. That’s you.

    Wow, Adam. That is powerful imagery. And it is good doctrine too, I think. It is a painful reminder of both who we really are and of the awful gulf that still remains between us and our God — between our character and His character.

    Part of the Good News is that Christ has already disabled one of the heads of Jacob’s two headed monster – death and hell (three heads if you count the devil separately) – and because of the atonement He has prepared an escape from the other through repentance. In the last days Christ is doing everything He can to remind us to always be repenting. He wants us to focus on changing our character for the better and making ourselves more like He is. Here is an interesting factoid: I did a search for all the verses in scriptures that contain some variation of the word “repent�. In the 2774 pages of the Bible there are 105 verses with a repent in them. In the 294 pages of the D&C there are 123 verses with repent. Repent is even more commonly used in the 418 pages of the Book of Mormon, appearing in 313 verses. Clearly Christ wants us back and the scriptures of the restoration show us how. I think we are very much in agreement that what is left for us is to not get too discouraged calling ourselves pathetic and disgusting and whatnot, but rather to fear not to do good, look unto Christ in every thought, remember that He does not (yet) condemn us and… well… repent.

  54. Repent, indeed.

    I’m with President Benson, who said that the atonement has the most power to move us when we truly realize the awful extent of our fall. I’m also with every prophet to ever address the subject, who’s said that despair at our wickedness is just another of the Devil’s subtle arrows.

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