The Final Judgment
Two of my dear friends recently suggested I attend my ward’s Gospel Principles  class. They know I have questions about the nature of God and the way grace is taught in the church, so they suggested I bring it back to basics.
Heeding their advice, I decided yesterday to give it a try.
The topic? Final judgment.
When I heard the topic, I was excited. I thought, What better opportunity to discuss Christ’s atonement and how His grace allows us to stand blameless before God at the last day than a lesson on the final judgment?
Then we got into the discussion, and my heart sank.
From the lesson materials:
Only through faith in Jesus Christ can we be prepared for the Final Judgment. Through faithful discipleship to him and repentance of all our sins, we can be forgiven for our sins and become pure and holy so that we can dwell in the presence of God. As we repent of our sins, giving up every impure thought and act, the Holy Ghost will change our hearts so we no longer have even the desire to sin. Then when we are judged, we will be found ready to enter into God’s presence. — Gospel Principles page 295
Here’s what concerns me about it…
Only through faith in Jesus Christ can we be prepared for the Final Judgment. I guess there’s nothing terribly controversial about this, though I do question the idea that we “prepare” for the Final Judgment as though it’s some sort of college exam. But I can let that slide and agree with the general sentiment: that it is only through our faith in Christ that we can have a favorable outcome at the judgment bar of God. If we left it here, I’d be able to breathe easily. But, alas, there’s more.
Through faithful discipleship to him and repentance of all our sins, we can be forgiven for our sins and become pure and holy so that we can dwell in the presence of God. Now we’re getting into shaky territory. Yes, we should be faithful disciples of Christ. Yes, we must repent of our sins. But this sounds dangerously close to claiming that it is our discipleship and repentance that make us holy. I thought that our repentance–turning to Christ–allows Him to make us pure and holy, and it is Him working in us that gives us the strength and power to become faithful disciples. Right?
Also, the use of the phrase “repentance of all our sins” seriously freaks me out–given the fact that I was raised to believe that repentance is a 4-step process you have to do for each one of your sins. Look, I won’t lie, I’m a sinful person. Like, super duper extra sinful with a rotten cherry on top. I don’t think I can even remember all of my sins in a single freaking day, let alone repent of them all over the course of my entire lifetime.
As we repent of our sins, giving up every impure thought and act…
This is where the alarm bells start screaming. I have to give up every impure thought and act? Well hell. I probably have 500 impure thoughts a day. A day! This is Never. Gonna. Happen. Maybe with someone more empirically righteous than me, but not me. Oh boy. Not me.
…the Holy Ghost will change our hearts so we no longer have even the desire to sin.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this saying that IN ORDER for the Holy Ghost to change my heart, I have to give it all up first? Look, I’m all for giving it up, but I don’t think I can do it alone. And any way I read this, I can’t get away from the interpretation that I have to be perfect in resisting my sinful impulses before the Holy Ghost will help me eliminate them.
This is starting to sound extremely bleak indeed.
Then when we are judged, we will be found ready to enter into God’s kingdom.
So unless I’ve given up all my sins and repented of them all, the Holy Ghost can’t change me. And it is only the Holy Ghost changing me that will help me be found ready to enter into God’s Kingdom.
Here’s why this is so frustrating to me. I spent precious years of my life thinking this is exactly what was required of me, and beating myself up for always, always, always falling short. I no longer think this is really the way things work, but sitting in that lesson yesterday brought back all kinds of painful memories and emotions.
My husband often says the anxiety and perfectionism I’ve struggled with in my life are the result of my own upbringing, experiences, and misunderstandings–and that I’m unique. He says the church doesn’t teach what I always thought it taught, and so it’s not fair to blame it for years of feeling like I’d never be good enough in the eyes of God.
I agree it’s not productive to blame other people for my pain. So I’ll own it. Yes, it was my upbringing, experiences, and misunderstandings that produced the semi-depressed, high-strung perfectionist who hyperventilated through life for so long. No, it wasn’t just the lessons I sat through as a teenager and young adult that fostered my dysfunction. To say anything else would deny that mental health issues are incredibly complex and create a simple scapegoat for what is really a multidimensional problem.
But come on. What else is a person supposed to understand from a lesson like that?
Because I’ll tell you what. While it’s not fair to blame my YW leaders and seminary teachers for my anxiety problems, sitting through those kinds of lessons week after week sure as hell didn’t help things at all.
1. Gospel Principles is a “beginner’s” Sunday School class offered in most LDS congregations, and it is a topical study of the basic teachings of the church. Most adults attend Gospel Doctrine, which takes lessons out of books of scripture.
Posted on May 25, 2009, in Mental Health, Mormonism, Personal, Thoughts on God and tagged anxiety, faith, God, grace, judgment, Mormonism, repentance, salvation, sin, sunday school. Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.