Friday, May 21, 2004

Temporal rewards

And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual (Mosiah 2:41, emphasis added).

What are we to make of this scripture? There are many scriptures that teach that God will bless the obedient, but this is one that goes further: it claims that those blessings will be temporal as well as spiritual. So how do we think of those that are not temporally blessed? Are there people who keep the commandments but are not temporally blessed? I suspect so, but that doesn't fit with this verse.

Some attempts at resolving this might be:

Their blessings will come at some later point, possibly in the next life. There are a couple of problems with this: first, if the blessings don't come until the next life, then the term “temporal” means something different than what we typically think it means; and second, the verse loses its rhetorical impact if we can no longer “consider ... the blessed and happy state” now.

They are blessed, since everything we have comes from God. Or, a similar attempt: They are blessed, because their lives would have been much worse if they had not been obedient. The problem with both of these is that there is no reason to consider the obedient any more blessed than the disobedient. In response to the first, we point out that God “sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” In response to the second, we point out that the lives of the disobedient could have been much worse. Why could we not equally say, “Consider the blessed and happy state of those that keep not the commandments of God...?”

Is there a good resolution of this verse that preserves its rhetorical value?

8 comments:

  1. maybe. While there is no "gospel of prosperity" the BoM's most frequently repeated msg, other than of Jesus Christ's atoning sacrifice, is that "obedience = prosperity."

    The rain verse you mention...I don't think it negates these others.

    If one is obedient, one has access to the Spirit, which can sharpen senses, intellect, etc...whereby such a person has a better chance of earning material prosperity?

    -lyle

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  2. I had this similar question come up in Sunday School recently.

    Mosiah 2:22
    "And behold, all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments; and he has promised you that if ye would keep his commandments ye should prosper in the land; and he never doth vary from that which he hath said; therefore, if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper you."

    Only that week had I learnt that some friends had gone inactive. Their reason? Some friends of theirs had long since been inactive, and they were doing much better at work and 'getting ahead'. My friends found this hard to accept since we're 'supposed to be blessed for doing the right thing'.

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  3. A few thoughts. First off I think the next life *is* temporal. I suppose that this is dependent upon what we mean by temporal vs. spiritual which, to a degree, begs the question.

    More importantly, I think we assume that being blessed somehow entails protection from the ills of life. We may indeed be blessed, but the blessings are overshadowed by life's unfortunate events. For instance suppose I pay my tithing and I am blessed for that. Yet I still may be short of cash to pay a mortgage or rent. As you say, there is no reason to believe the obedient more blessed than the disobedient. But is that true? How do we determine that?

    My personal opinion is that the main blessing of keeping the commandments is our perspective on life. In that case we *are* blessed both temporal and spiritual. It's just that sometimes the judgement of those on the outside about what counts as a blessing is misplaced. But perhaps I'm just too much the "Zen Mormon" in that regard.

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  4. Semiotician,

    I tend to agree with you, but, as I mentioned above, this view (that blessing is primarily a matter of internal perspective) causes this verse to lose its rhetorical value. Perhaps we should say, instead, "Consider your blessed and happy state when ye keep the commandments of God."

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  5. dp and lyle,

    The prosperity promised in the Book of Mormon accounts may only be tangentially material. I think it is easier to reconcile most of them with the idea of spiritual/familial prosperity than it is to reconcile this particular verse.

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  6. I think the Book of Mormon itself gives us a clue as to why this verse may be true even on a this-temporal-life, material level.

    As other posters have pointed out, it's difficult on an individual level to make a direct correlation between individual rightousness and temporal success. But if we look at the history of the Nephites as a society -- the more that society as a whole is righteous the more people there are who are doing okay materially [the problem, of course, is when they start doing too okay].

    Of course, I'm not sure that restores the rhetorical force to this verse from Mosiah as King Benjamin seems to be speaking directly to individuals and individual righteousness and blessings.

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  7. William,

    You have a good point about distinguishing between collective and individual applicability. But even given that interpretation, how should we apply this verse today? Would it be appropriate to say, "Those who keep the commandments are more materially blessed (collectively) than those who do not?" Conversely, should we be able to identify by their material prosperity those societies that are keeping the commandments? It doesn't seem to me that we can do so.

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  8. Grasshopper:

    Where are the societies that are keeping the commandments today?

    The difficulty, of course, is that King Benjamin is speaking rhetorically -- in essentializing terms. Which is only right. I see no reason for him to burden himself down with qualifiers [that's what us moderns do].

    The application for us is that in modern society we are living in mixed times. Your comparisons are impossible to make on a one-to-one basis. Which societies are "keeping the commandments" and which aren't?

    What's left to us is to try and build societieis filled with covenant-keeping, honest, charitable people. And to avoid the descent into pride and materialism that doomed the Nephites. Taken in those terms, then, yes, I think we can say that if socities keep commandments they will be more temporally blessed than those that don't -- and by temporal I include the element of time. Stability if you will. Societies [or more likely segments of societies] can gain great prosperity in the short term by engaging in unrighteous behavior, but in the long term they also sow the seeds of their own decline.

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