Obedience Lectures – By Common Consent, A Mormon Blog
David Aubril is a French teacher, passionate about didactics, literature, UNIX systems and apnea (in no order of preference). He follows with great interest contemporary debates on evangelical and ecclesial questions, but from afar, from “the other side of the Washingtonter”, as Pascal says.
When I was in high school, my reading of Pascal’s Thoughts and my friendship with a Latter-day Saint classmate caused me to wonder about the existence of God. The answers I found in the Bible and the Book of Mormon gave me a deep desire to obey his commandments.
Despite the incomprehension of many relatives, I was baptized and left on a mission. Back home, I resumed the studies that I had left aside and I got married.
My wife and I firmly believed in the repeated promises in the Book of Mormon: “If you keep my commandments, you will prosper in the land” (2 Nephi 4:4). We were convinced that our obedience would earn us the blessing of an eternal family.
It is difficult to express how touched we were when a series of trials shook our home. Not only was our dream collapsing, but our certainties were shattered.
Of course, I knew that obedience did not protect us from trials. But somehow I thought, in a very superstitious way, that I would be saved. I say ‘superstitious’ because I think that’s what brings the emphasis on obedience to many of us. We think we have acquired some sort of magical protection. We reverse things: instead of doing the will of God, we obey so that God does our will. By our obedience, we hope to be able to bind God, justifying ourselves and deceiving ourselves with the promises contained in the Scriptures. “Why does this happen to me, when I follow the commandments? actually means “I do what God asks of me, he cannot do this to me, he is bound”.
We often hear leaders say that “obedience is the first law of heaven.” But obedience is, in fact, neither the first principle of the gospel nor the first commandment. Yet, probably because of our frequent use of the concept of covenant, obedience seems to have become a basic principle of the gospel for many Church members. Just look at the number of speeches and lessons on this subject.
We talk about it a lot, but we don’t question it, and we probably don’t understand it. What does obey really mean?
The account of the fall teaches a great lesson in this regard. After eating of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, Eve came to Adam and tried to make him take it. In their dialogue we see two very different understandings of obedience. Adam says he has every intention of following all of our father’s commandments. Eve explains that he cannot. He must choose. Either he stays in the Garden of Eden or he goes with her to fill the earth. But he can’t do both.
In a complex world, obeying is not following a directive, it is prioritizing and choosing which directives we will follow, and which directives we will leave out. To obey has always been to choose between several commandments. When Christ rebukes the Pharisees, it is because they prioritize the commandments incorrectly: giving priority to gifts to the Temple rather than helping one’s parents, exercising the law while forgetting mercy.
Obedience explains why it was necessary to eat this fruit. After all, Adam seemed to clearly know it was wrong to take it: God had forbidden it. But the “knowledge of good and evil” is not only about knowing that something is forbidden: it is about making the best choice at a given time, in given circumstances, and taking responsibility for it. It is living the dilemmas of life. In other words, it is about developing a moral sense, a conscience.
Thus, Eve is not only a great example of faith, but also of obedience, because she understood what obedience really was, even if it may seem very contrary to Christian tradition.
By obeying, we do not give up our agency, but we exercise it. I think therein lies a major misunderstanding between church leaders and many of our younger and less active members. Most of the time, they do not stop following the principles of the gospel. But they prioritize them differently. And often with relevance that we could actually learn from. It strikes me that while church authorities lament in their speeches the decline of moral values in society, huge crowds are rising up to denounce injustice as never before.
Without a better understanding of the concept of obedience and better teachings about it, we will surely miss many of the dilemmas of our younger generations.