Monday, September 28, 2009

"Bridle All Your Passions," Part II

It's not too hard to figure out why Alma's counsel to Shiblon on avoiding sexual temptation is a good idea, but Alma provides an explicit reminder of the stakes of this particular commandment in his subsequent rebuke to Corianton: "Know ye not, my son, that [sexual sins] are an abomination in the sight of the Lord; yea, most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost?" (Alma 39:5). The negative consequences of sexual sin are made quite clear, but what are the spiritual blessings that naturally come to those who bridle their passions? After all, as King Mosiah teaches, there is a blessing--a positive externality--tied to every act of obedience: "he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you" (my emphasis; Mosiah 2:24). So by bridling "all your passions"--and not just your sexual passions, mind you--we do more than guarantee that we won't be spending the eternities with David in the telestial kingdom; we also earn certain blessings that are available to us in no other way, because "when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated" (D&C 130:21).

Most of us can easily connect the act of subduing our passions to improved social relationships, especially in marriage; the late President Gordon B. Hinckley taught a gathering of young women that "[i]f you can thus discipline yourselves, you will be grateful for as long as you live. Most of you will marry, and your marriage will be much the happier for your earlier restraint" (Discourses V. 2, 67). The Doctrine & Covenants also teach that controlling our passions--controlling the impulse "to exercise unrighteous dominion"--is important because doing so allows to have more natural and permanent social and familial relationships:

"No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness ... reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing for afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; that he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death" (D&C 121:41-44).

Both President Hinckley's exhortation and the Doctrine & Covenants understand the act of "putt[ing] off the natural man" as a means of social improvement (Mosiah 3:19), but I would like to emphasize a different spiritual blessing that is closely tied to the bridling of passions. When we bridle our passions, we are also given "pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul," and when we "let virtue garnish [our] thoughts unceasingly; then shall [our] confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distill upon thy soul as the dews from heaven. ... and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever" (D&C 121:42, 45-46). In these verses, the benefits of bridling our passions are less concrete and, apparently, less immediate: our soul expands, we are steeped in the doctrine of the priesthood, and everlasting dominion--the nature of God's existence--comes naturally to us. What does all this mean, and how is it connected to bridling our passions?

Consider this insight from Clement of Alexandria (the earliest, and therefore most authoritative, of the post-apostolic Christian fathers): "The whole creation is to be understood as a synthesis: the imposing of inner order on outer material" (from Nibley, Temple and Cosmos, 273). Clement's claim is consistent with revealed truths about the creation; as we learn in Abraham, the Gods (monotheism is another subject I'll bite my teeth into one of these days...) "counseled among themselves to form the heavens and the earth" BEFORE they actually "came down and formed these the generations of the heavens and of the earth" (Abraham 5:3-4). The act of creation is the act of translating mental images and understandings onto physical matter.

What does all of this have to do with bridling our passions? Consider: 1) Our passions are the products of a fallen, physical body. 2) When we "bridle" them, we impose a mental or spiritual order on material substance. In other words, the act of bridling our passions IS an act of creation. We are creating ourselves--or at least our future selves--by organizing and ordering our own bodies. It is in this sense that I understand Elder Bruce R. McConkie's suggestion that "[i]n a real though figurative sense, the book of life is the record of the acts of men as such record is written in their own bodies. It is the record engraven on the very bones, sinews, and flesh of the mortal body. That is, every thought, word, and deed has an affect [I think he means effect] on the human body; all these leave their marks, marks which can be read by Him who is Eternal as easily as the words in a book can be read" (Mormon Doctrine 97). As previously noted, apostles are entitled to express opinions that may not reflect official doctrine, but I believe that this particular opinion is consonant with scripture (see Revelation 20:12 on the books of life, and Alma 41 on the principle of restoration, as those who live celestial law are restored to celestial bodies, etc.). So--when we bridle our passions, our soul expands because we have extended our control over our physical bodies, and we are blessed with an everlasting dominion, because we have already begun to wield the creative power that we will exercise in the eternities.

If we believe that the act of bridling our passions is an act of creation, then we are practicing all the time for a future as gods and goddesses who will move from internal (physiological) creations to external (cosmological) creations. Bridling our passions--projecting an internal order onto unruly external material--is the best approximation in this mortal world of that which God did when he created the world. Understanding this truth provides insight into just why it is that "if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come" (D&C 130:19). The advantage that comes to those who diligently discipline their bodies and passions is not a reward or prize; it is a natural expansion of their abilities as creators that will allow them to be and create like God sooner than those who have not practiced imposing their will upon matter during their time on earth.

To sum up: there are serious negative consequences for individuals who do not bridle their passions, but for those of you who like to "accentuate the positive," just remind yourself that there are few things in which you come closer to the glory of God's creative power than when you exercise a little discipline and constrain your desires, appetites, and passions within the bounds that the Lord has set forth for us in the scriptures.


Jenny said...

"he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth IMMEDIATELY bless you"
I like your emphasis here.
We need to consider the Lord's commandments less as
Thou shalt not(s).
He is so anxious to bless us when we are obedient.
Great post, Zach. Thanks.

Jo Jo said...

Wow, really great post Zach. Have you thought of submitting this for publication in the Ensign? I understood it, could never have come up with that, but appreciate your insight. Therefore, others would as well. I'm so glad I'm related to you. And you love me.

Becky said...

I too think you should submit this...someone else besides your "Fans" should read your writings. :) Have you ever thought about submitting to the Ensign? People that have read your blog through mine have said the same thing as well. This is FANTASTIC! More please?

priscilla said...

Very cute, Zach.
The picture will get the readers.

Comment: as I have been studying the Bradstreets...
I have learned that 2 of Anne's and Simon's children:
JOhn born in 1652
and Dudley born in 1648 and his wife, Anne born in 1652 were all
named as witches in 1692. They were all living in ANdover, Ma at the time.

THey were 3 of the lucky ones because they escaped before a trial and hid until the furor was over. They must have later returned to Andover and died there.