Friday, August 21, 2020

D&C 29: Plan of Salvation Potpourri

My little introductions to each section are feeling increasingly pointless as there isn't always some important backstory that prompted each revelation.  But it seems weird to just dive in, so please pretend like I provided a way to gently ease into the subject matter even though we're basically just diving in anyway.

For a Limited Time Only
Our first contact off the diving board is with verse 9:

For the hour is nigh and the day soon at hand when the earth is ripe; and all the proud and they that do wickedly shall be as stubble; and I will burn them up, saith the Lord of Hosts, that wickedness shall not be upon the earth;

And let's also take a quick peek at the section header:

This revelation was given some days prior to the conference, beginning September 26, 1830.

The hour has been nigh at hand for 190 years.  What's the point of saying it's soon when your audience's great grandchildren won't live to see it?  How is that not lying?  Or a demonstrably false prophecy?

Yes, We're Doing This Again
The horse has been beaten into its separate atoms at this point, but this section is one of the worst offenders for which-person-is-speaking-osis we've seen in quite some time.

Points at which Jesus is obviously talking:

  • Jesus introduces himself (verse 1)
  • I am the advocate with the Father (verse 5)
  • a decree went forth from the Father (verse 8)
  • the Lord of Hosts says he will burn the wicked (verse 9)
  • God says my original twelve apostles will stand at my right hand (verse 12)
  • my blood will not cleanse those who hear me not (verse 17)
  • I will be ashamed of the wicked before my father (verse 27)
Points at which God is obviously talking:
  • I the Lord God will send flies (verse 18)
  • Michael, mine archangel (verse 26)
  • Adam rebelled against me (verse 36)
  • I, the Lord God, did a bunch of stuff (verses 41-43)
  • children are redeemed through mine Only Begotten (verse 46)
The beginning of the section seems to be Jesus-dominated and the end of the section seems to be God-dominated, but there's overlap in the middle.  Plus, there are a lot of places throughout the chapter where it could be either one of them talking.  For example, verse 2 contains a lot of verbiage that usually refers to God the Father (gathering people under his wings as a hen, humble yourselves before me, call upon me in prayer) even though it's a continuation of the same sentence in which Jesus introduced himself in the previous verse.  And in verse 31, when the speaker indicates he created all things both temporal and spiritual...Jesus created the physical universe under direction of the Father but our spirits were created by celestial sex between the Father and one of his wives, right?  So verse 31 can be interpreted as being spoken by God and Jesus all within the same sentence.  Are God and Jesus revealing stuff to Joseph like a couple of award show hosts reading an awkward shared script?  Should they also be trading canned jokes and setting each other up for bad punchlines?

Orrrrr—I'll say it again—was the original form of the unchanging gospel of Mormonism more Trinitarian in its approach that it pretends to be?

Commandment Classifications
God (or whoever's talking) makes a claim in verse 35 that is difficult to defend:

Behold, I gave unto him that he should be an agent unto himself; and I gave unto him commandment, but no temporal commandment gave I unto him, for my commandments are spiritual; they are not natural nor temporal, neither carnal nor sensual.

So we're trying to make the argument that God's commandments are entirely spiritual and have nothing to do with the secular world or with carnality.  So why has God's church advised us against things that have no direct relevance to one's moral or spiritual character, such as drinking coffee, wearing multiple piercings, gambling, getting tattoos, and having oral sex with one's spouse?  Some of these will even keep you from getting a temple recommend.  

And speaking of temple recommends, why is paying your tithing a requirement?  Money is a human concept, not a divine one, so if God's commandments are purely spiritual, why should the way we spend a man-made temporal resource factor into our worthiness to participate in saving ordinances?  

I suppose the natural apologist response to this is that all these seemingly temporal commandments carry spiritual blessings with them when we obey them.  Which is doctrinally accurate.  The problem I have with that is that then every commandment is a spiritual commandment.  God could literally command you to have a 500-person orgy and it still won't be considered a carnal commandment because you'll reap the spiritual rewards for your obedience.  But if that's what God meant, there would have been much easier ways to get that point across other than trying to draw a distinction between his spiritual commandments and his non-existent temporal commandments.

And I don't know that God really has any right to claim his commandments are neither carnal nor sensual when he's about to send an angel with a drawn sword to force Joseph Smith to marry a teenager.  

The Paradox of Innocence
There's a weird little contradiction with big implications in separate passages of this section.  Below are verses 39 and 47:
And it must needs be that the devil should tempt the children of men, or they could not be agents unto themselves; for if they never should have bitter they could not know the sweet

Wherefore, they cannot sin, for power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they begin to become accountable before me;

So this immediately makes me think of 2 Nephi chapter 2, so I want to bring in a couple of relevant verses from there to demonstrate how this doctrinal point is a complete mess.  I'm going to pull in a few relevant excerpts from 2 Nephi.

5 And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil. And the law is given unto men. And by the law no flesh is justified; or, by the law men are cut off. Yea, by the temporal law they were cut off; and also, by the spiritual law they perish from that which is good, and become miserable forever.
First I just want to point out that this verse refers to a temporal law, which is exactly the kind of commandment God just claimed he doesn't give.  But that's not the point.

Here we learn that we're instructed sufficiently to know good from evil, but of course, Adam eating the fruit meant that we're supposed to have the knowledge of good and evil, not that we'll be instructed concerning the difference between the two concepts.  But that's not the point either.

If the law is given unto men, how does the age of accountability work in there?  D&C 29:47 indicates that Satan cannot tempt children, but it doesn't explain when and how children are instructed with the knowledge of good and evil before their 8th birthday.  So how does it work?  Are 8-year-olds accountable because they are now eligible for temptation from Satan?  Or are they accountable because they've been instructed in the law?
11 For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.

There's opposition in all things, apparently, except childhood, where we exist in a state of stagnant morality, unable to be tempted, unable to sin, and utterly without influences trying to attract us toward the moral poles.

16 Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.

So children are not able to act for themselves because they can't be tempted to do evil or influenced to do good?  I feel like any parent would be confused by that statement.  Are they not trying to teach their children to do the right things?  Don't many children obey their parents and behave well even before the age of 8?  Don't many children ignore their parents and get up to mischief even before the age of 8?  Of course children are agents unto themselves.  Just because they may not be accountable for their choices doesn't mean they're not still making those choices.

How are we supposed to explain a 7-year-old lying to his parents if that 7-year-old doesn't have the influence of Satan in his life to entice him into that immoral act?

23 And they would have had no children; wherefore they would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for they knew no misery; doing no good, for they knew no sin.
If children under the age of accountability cannot sin and cannot be tempted, then they should be in a state like that of Adam on and Eve prior to the Fall, right?  But the description above of pre-Fall Adam and Eve doesn't sound like your average 7-year-old.  Children may be in a state of innocence, but they are capable of having joy and knowing misery—or, to borrow some phrasing from D&C 29:39, they can have bitter and know the sweet even though they're not agents unto themselves.  And they can do good and bad things even if their misdeeds aren't classified as sins or counted against them.
I like the doctrine that children are not accountable for what they do wrong.  If there actually were a benevolent god, that would probably be a feature of his theological framework for our lives.  But fitting that doctrine into Mormonism is kind of like fitting a square peg into a round hole just because the peg is smaller than the hole.

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