The Final Judgment

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Two of my dear friends recently suggested I attend my ward’s Gospel Principles [1] 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.

/sigh

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.
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About Katie L

Thirtysomething wife, mother, writer, runner, believer, and lover of good food and bad movies.

Posted on May 25, 2009, in Mental Health, Mormonism, Personal, Thoughts on God and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. What is it you are hoping to gain from all this dissecting and questioning of the gospel? Peace? Absolute answers?

    You have two choices in life..
    You can choose to have FAITH..
    Or you can choose to need FACTS
    You either have faith or you don’t.

    If you want to find any kind of peace you need to figure out what it is you’re expect to find through all of this searching and dissecting of the gospel. If the answers you are finding don’t please you, then you have some choices to make: Is it worth it? Should you be trying something different?

    Do you have enough faith to sustain you? If so, then live your life the best you can. God loves you and knows your heart and soul.

    I on the other hand, don’t have faith, I only have my convictions, and I’m at peace with that. I need truth, not speculation. All I know is flesh and blood. My heart can’t convince my brain that I need to worship things divine. I’m not suggesting that my way is the way for anyone else, but I’ve found my own way, and it works for me. I am unwilling to devote my life to something that doesn’t bring me peace or earthly fulfillment.

    You’ve got a good heart and soul Katie. Smile, life is beautiful 🙂

  2. 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.

    And this is one of the reasons I love you so much, Katie. You’re so refreshingly honest about the hopelessness of your condition apart from the grace of Christ. I don’t think anyone can really experience any depth of gratitude for the atonement who hasn’t first known and experienced the depths of their own depravity.

  3. Katie,

    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.

    You’re wrong; the interpretation is simplistic and doesn’t address critical components of the Atonement of Christ, and the principles of incremental progress taught in places like Isaiah.

    It sounds like your husband is already trying to tell you things I’d also tell you.

    Have you ever read Stephen Robinson’s “Believing Christ”?

    It doesn’t sound like “Gospel Principles”, as understood by the teenage mind, but it’s pure Mormonism, even if some of the metaphors are a bit inept.

  4. What is it you are hoping to gain from all this dissecting and questioning of the gospel? Peace? Absolute answers?

    Truth, Todd.

    Though I confess, this post was more me venting than me “searching.”

    I doubt I will ever discover “absolute” answers in this life, because I understand that my perception of truth will always be colored by human error. Having said that, I would like to come as close to it as possible.

    If the answers you are finding don’t please you, then you have some choices to make: Is it worth it? Should you be trying something different?

    At some point, Todd, I think it would be very interesting to talk with you in depth about this point. I can’t here, it’s too public. But some of my answers might surprise you…

    You’ve got a good heart and soul Katie. Smile, life is beautiful 🙂

    Thank you. You too. I love ya–and that girlfriend of yours. Give her a hug from me. 🙂

  5. You’re wrong; the interpretation is simplistic and doesn’t address critical components of the Atonement of Christ, and the principles of incremental progress taught in places like Isaiah.

    Rob, I’m afraid I might not have made my post clear. I no longer grapple with whether this interpretation is correct. I know it’s false and simplistic. My question was more about whether or not “this is what the words in the manual are really saying”? It concerns me that these are the kinds of “basic teachings” that get handed out to youth and new converts–because I worry that these sorts of things deny the grace of Christ and negatively impact the way they experience God and the church for the rest of their lives.

    I actually read Believing Christ several years ago at the behest of a counselor I was seeing to work through some of these issues. It was an important book for me at the time, though my views on grace and atonement have evolved since then to become even more “liberal.”

  6. Katie, it says, “As we repent of our sins,” which suggests a process to me, and which is not inconsistent with a more nuanced view of repentance than the four-steps method. The problem with the text is not one of content, it’s one of density; it’s possible to easily misinterpret it, if one has not studied the scriptures.

    You *could* speak up in the GP class and voice your “does this mean?” kinds of concern, and probably spark an interesting discussion.

  7. I think it is a mistake to take an all-or-nothing right now approach.

  8. Kathie,

    I’ve read bits and pieces of your comments and find them very interesting. I sense you are a belieiving member of the LDS faith, but I also sense some hostility in some of your comments. I would guess (forgive me for judging) life has beat you up more than a few times. I’m an older fellow and have been a believer of the Restored Gospel for about 40 years. Prior to that I was quite a heathen. So, from one who has been around the block so to speak, and from one who has had many emotional and spiritual challenges, I can assure you the best and most secure route for one who has made solumn covenants (as myself and I would guess you), is to embrace the Gospel and all its parts with all your heart and with all your soul. To “give in” in the least is to wave the white flag to the opposition. We are, after all, saved by grace. But not everyone who saith Lord, Lord, will enter His Kingdom. We must stay vigilant. There is, for sure, a balance, a balance that allows us to do only the best we have the spiritual, physical and emotional energy to do, and the rest we trust in the Lord. I said that wrong. We must place it all on the Lord’s shoulders, but in the mean time, we must do our very best, and that includes being loyal to the Lord in our words and our actions. The minute we think it is ok to speak or act like the world (often just to get attention or to feel liberated, or so we think), if we fail to repent, we are heading down a subtle path of self deception that could end in heartache. The truth is, we can feel liberated and faithful to the Lord at the same time. How? By not just believing Christ exists, but also by believing Him and His promises, that He has the power and the compassion to save us notwithstanding our weaknesses. I’ve learned this fact for myself and I know it is true. So, people like you and I need to fully embrace Christ, His Church and His appointed leaders-even in their weaknesses. If we try to do our part in the Church, but then throw out subtle jabs at the Church or any of its parts, we are harming ourselves and the Church not to mention our family. It is the full embracing that brings the feelings of liberation and strength. Again, forgive me for judging. If I’ve totally missed the point, I hope you will realize I mean no harm. I wish you well in your journey.

    gsmith

  9. Katie,

    1. Do you hate it when people call you Kathie? I hate being Kathy…
    2. What’s up with people seeming angry at you for speaking your mind? Jeeeesh.
    3. I have no productive answers for you. Except to say that you seem to have an idea of how you feel like Jesus/the Holy Ghost/Heavenly Father would/should be doing (in the framework of the church), and I would suggest that you trust that feeling more than the poorly articulated book.
    4. Aren’t you screwed anyway due to the cupcake lickage?

  10. Katy,

    1. I certainly prefer Katie. 🙂

    2. I dunno why folks get angry. But I expect people in general are just trying to be helpful, so I try not to let it get me down.

    3. Thanks. Learning to trust myself is hard, but it’s the best way to go, I think.

    4. Ha! Funny pun. Yeppers, I’m already screwed.

  11. Katie, I’m with you on this passage. It makes it sound like getting into heaven is your job and faith in Christ is only the first part of the process instead of the driving force, the central event.

    There may be Latter-day Saint writings which display a better understanding of faith, repentance and grace, but this isn’t one of them.

  12. There may be Latter-day Saint writings which display a better understanding of faith, repentance and grace, but this isn’t one of them.

    I dunno Jack, and I’m sure it’s because I’m in an extra pissy mood today, but sometimes I can’t help wondering if this IS the LDS understanding of faith, repentance, and grace, and those of us who think otherwise are just fooling ourselves.

    I know it’s much more complex than this, because it’s next to impossible to define what the term “the LDS understanding” even means…but like I say, I’m grumpy today and so I feel like feeding my pessimism.

  13. Katie, I like this post a lot. I don’t have anything to say that could possibly improve on your and others’ comments.

    And gsmith, I think it’s safe to say that Ms. Langston has fully embraced Christ and seeks to know Him, so that’s all you need to worry about.

  14. Katie,
    I have many thoughts on this post and I enjoyed reading gsmith’s post as he had some very good points, perhaps one day soon we can walk & talk or sit & chat about this very topic as I have grown time and time again with regard to this. Also I am sorry I was not in there, we were in our other class (TP) but we’ll be back….I can often throw the group members for loop with some insightful yet deep question that takes everyone a moment to ponder and then attempt to answer….A conversation awaits.

  15. Hey Maria!!

    So fun to see you here on my blog! 🙂 Thank you for stopping by. It’s awesome to see that we might have a lot in common! I’d love to get together and chat about some of this stuff.

    I was certainly frustrated by the lesson that week–though, if you look around the blog, you can see by my grumpiness it was kind of a rough few weeks. I want to point out…especially because you know the teachers 😉 … that I was mostly frustrated by the lesson materials, not our ward members. The teachers did a really good job presenting it and I was impressed with their answers when I asked them a question or two along the lines of my blog post here. It was the wording of the lesson itself that stressed me out a little.

    Anyway, I sure hope to see you around here more often!!

  16. Hi, Katie,

    I don’t think I ever had as much difficulty as you over this, but I remember being VRY afraid that the 2nd Coming would happen and I wouldn’t have repented enough, etc.

    Then I found 2 Ne 33:6 and Moroni 10:32-33. And then I started believing that the Bible means exactly what is says when it talks about the Spirit as the earnest of our inheritance, i.e. “earnest money” on God’s intent to purchase us eternally. At that point, I knew I had the Spirit in my life, and I quit worrying. If ever I don’t feel I have the Spirit in my life, then I worry – and change whatever it is that drove Him away in the first place.

    That’s the short version. I know it’s not that simple for everyone, but I just wanted to share.

    Also, I fully agree with the previous comment – the manual says “as we repent of our sins,” implying a process. Unfortunately the manual fails to recognize that according to the scriptures we are saved from the moment we start the process.

    As disciples of Christ, the goal is to conform our behavior to His perfect standard, but the scriptures never say we are saved only IF we achieve that standard. I think the manual confuses the “ideal’ with how things actually work in practice.

    I taught Gospel Principles for a year right after I got married, and I remember that we did have a great discussion about Christ’s grace during this lesson. Whenever the topic comes up, I try to reiterate what one of my BYU prof’s said – “When we stand to be judged we will be worthy to enter His presence, not because we kept the law perfectly, but because we trusted in the One who did.” (see 2 Ne 4:19)

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