I've been going through an interesting transition over the last few months. The center where I was employed was shut down, laying off me and every one of my coworkers. During the closing months before our final day, we all were scrambling to find new jobs. Only three of us, including me, were able to do so before our last day of employment. What I found was basically the same job for a better company with nearly identical pay and better hours. I also had about a month off between jobs, during which time I received severance equivalent to a paycheck for a greater length of time than I'll actually be unemployed. Obviously, it sucked to be laid off, but when something negative with so much of an upside happens, I find myself thinking about the "tender mercies of the Lord" mentioned by Nephi and popularized by David A. Bednar:
As we learn in these scriptures, the fundamental purposes for the gift of agency were to love one another and to choose God. Thus we become God’s chosen and invite His tender mercies as we use our agency to choose God.
Had identical events happened to me while I was a faithful member of the church, I'd have credited them to the "tender mercies" God bestows upon us. I may have even somewhat callously concluded that the reason I have a comparable job lined up when the majority of my coworkers do not was due to my faithfulness in the gospel. But, in retrospect, those kinds of attitudes make no sense.
It reminds me of the "faith not to be healed" article in which Bednar basically explains that the reason the Priesthood doesn't work is because the Priesthood works. If that's acceptable reasoning, it sounds like any intersection between the gospel and daily life produces the same kinds of results as no intersection at all. Whether we're looking at the cause (a Priesthood blessing that doesn't necessarily heal) or at the result (a favorable situation that wasn't necessarily engineered by God), both ends of the Blessing Production Line display the same level of efficiency we'd get from not having a production line. My employment situation is exactly the kind of thing I'd consider a tender mercy but for the fact that I'm a filthy apostate who's essentially voided his covenants and blessings, so this never should have happened to me, right? The whole thing appears to be a crapshoot. It leads me to several possible conclusions:
- Being eligible for tender mercies does not require belief or the keeping of any commandments or covenants.
- There is no such thing as a tender mercy of the Lord and some people just get lucky.
- My specific situation did not involve a tender mercy and I just got lucky without divine intervention.
All of these really point to the complete superfluity of God's true church—at least when it comes to day-to-day life. It obviously can still be argued that I'm screwed as far as my postmortal life is concerned, but as far as getting by in our second estate, why do we need the church?
If I can get tender mercies while actively opposing the church, why should Mormonism be a necessary component of my life? If there's no such thing as a tender mercy, then why bother being a temple-going, tithe-paying member if it comes down to dumb luck anyway? And in regards to the third possible conclusion, why should I spend all that time being a pious Mormon if I can still get this lucky without all those blessings I supposedly need?
Obviously, my assessment of all this is that there are no tender mercies and that most of the things that are claimed to be such are really the results of luck, coincidence, charity, or hard work. In my case, I was really fortunate to find the job opening and really fortunate with the time frame of my application, and the reason I got the position was because I interviewed well and because my resume is stronger than that of most of my competitors for the slot (not that my resume is really anything to brag about in most contexts).
But the bottom line is that, just like a Priesthood blessing that doesn't heal its recipient, a tender mercy is an imaginary thing. Whatever was going to happen is still going to happen, regardless of Mormon theology's claimed role in determining the outcome of the situation. And, to me, it's fascinating—if somewhat predictable—the way a diametrically different perspective on the same kinds of situations changes our interpretations of the way events unfold.