For behold, and also his blood atoneth for the sins of those who have fallen by the transgression of Adam, who have died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned. But wo, wo unto him who knoweth that he rebelleth against God! For salvation cometh to none such except it be through repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ. (Mosiah 3:11-12)
There's a principle here that I think applies to more than just little children and people with developmental disabilities. It's not just that we need a certain level of intellectual capacity in order to be accountable, we also need knowledge of the will of God.
For me, it helps to remember this when I look at disturbing issues from the Old Testament. For instance, how could Abraham and Jacob be righteous men when they had concubines? How could they, or Sarah, Rachel and Leah, think that it was okay for a person to use another (who did not even have the right to refuse) as an object for procreative purposes?
I'm grateful that the Lord describes this thing as "abominable" to Him (Jacob 2:24), but I'm confused about His also declaring, "David’s wives and concubines were given unto him of me, by the hand of Nathan, my servant, and others of the prophets who had the keys of this power; and in none of these things did he sin against me save in the case of Uriah and his wife" (D&C 132:39).
David's polygamy is not the issue here. Not that I don't have some processing to do on polygamy, because I do, but I also feel a steady grounding in temple covenants that allows me to be patient about what I don't understand in practice and in language there. But concubines? How could that be okay?
Trying to bend my mind around this, I did a little research on concubines in Old Testament Israel. They were "marital companions of inferior status to a wife." We know that in the case of Abraham and Jacob, they were the handmaids (servants or slaves?) of wives. Did that hold true in the case of David as well? Did his wives (like Jacob's) compete in child-bearing and did they offer their handmaids as a mechanism for getting ahead?
I take some comfort in the hope that, for the handmaid to be given to David by the prophet, she would have had to be willing. But there could be no true union of souls, of hearts and dreams and destinies, in such a relationship between a slave and the husband of the woman who owns or commands her. There is no becoming one. The whole situation seems dark and exploitive to me.
And not just to me. The Lord calls it "abominable." He is by no means unmoved by Hagar's anguish when, after being used as a tool by Sarai and Abram, she begins to see herself as valuable in her own right, only to be abused by her mistress to the point that she flees into the wilderness. Considering the harshness of that wilderness, it seems fleeing probably put her very life in danger. There, the angel of the Lord greets her both by her name and by her station. "Hagar, Sarai's maid," he calls her. He directs her to return and submit to Sarai (a course which preserves her life and allows Ishmael to be born and partly raised with his father), but he also declares her a mother of numberless multitudes and says, "the Lord hath heard thy affliction." For Hagar, these are precious words that change everything. She calls the Lord by a new name: "Thou God Seest Me" (Genesis 16:4-13).
That tender story strengthens my faith that the Lord means what He's saying when, after calling David's and Solomon's collection of wives and concubines "abominable," He continues, "behold, I, the Lord, have seen the sorrow, and heard the mourning of the daughters of my people in the land of Jerusalem, yea, and in all the lands of my people, because of the wickedness and abominations of their husbands" (Jacob 2:31).
Further, I don't think He's dialing back His condemnation of concubinage when He says in D&C 132 that David didn't sin against Him in having concubines. Rather, I think He's saying that David was acting in good faith, according to his understanding and the understanding of the prophets of the time. I think it's possible to sin, to do something that is abominable before the Lord, without sinning against God. It's all about whether or not we know better. Our sins of ignorance are fully covered by the Atonement of Christ. Our sins against conscience are too -- as soon as we repent.
It makes me wonder about the sins I'm still committing in ignorance. It's easy to look at practices of the past and be mystified at how the good people living then didn't recognize the evil they did. It's easy to wonder why God didn't straighten them out. But then I consider, "my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8-9). That suggests to me that I, with my modern sensibilities, am a lot closer to the moral plane of my ancestors with their abominable practices like slavery and concubinage, than I am to God. I'm just blind to my own tradition-bound abominations, like they were to theirs. And God, in mercy, doesn't crush me with commandments that are beyond me. He accepts my good faith efforts to obey and draw closer. He prunes away the bad in me according to the growth of the good (Jacob 5:65-66).
It's said "the road to hell is paved with good intentions," but the true doctrine is something else entirely: if our intentions are truly good, Jesus will make our wrong-headed efforts right. They will be counted unto us for righteousness and bring us closer to heaven, even when our actions fall far short of the mark. According to Mormon, one who follow's Christ, "cannot be a servant of the devil." This is true even though we do unrecognized wrong when trying our very best, because His blood atones for our ignorant sins and His grace cleans up after our clumsiness.
I'm beginning to think that even the sanctified haven't stopped ignorantly sinning. They've just reached the point where they no longer do anything contrary to conscience. They've lost all appetite for evil, so they are able to correct more quickly as they are given more and more light. But they are still on that gradual upward incline we call repentance or growth.
What this means to me:
1. I need to renew a daily habit of repentance. If I ever reach the point in mortality that I'm no longer acting contrary to conscience, I will need to continue expanding my conscience, which will mean asking God every day for guidance on how I could have done better.
2. I need to recognize that it's not my job to go around trying to cure others of their blind spots. For example, if I could travel to the time of the ancient patriarchs, and if I found myself across a campfire from Abraham and Sarah, I think it would be tempting to try and disabuse them of the notion that people can be property. And they would not hear me. It would be so alien to their worldview that they wouldn't be able to bend their minds around it. I might even quote Jacob's words, "Do ye not suppose that such things are abominable unto him who created all flesh? And the one being is as precious in his sight as the other" (Jacob 2:21) and despite their love of God and devotion to His word, they wouldn't believe it. Instead, I would need to take comfort in their love of God and the assurance that, when they were ready, God would reveal that truth in a way they could comprehend. And I would need to treat the people they thought of as property with dignity and kindness, as my equals.
3. I need to forgive others for their blind spots. Their inability to currently see things that are clear to me does not make them bad or malicious. It just makes them human.
4. I need to be mindful that I have big blind spots too. That's not to stress out about them, because having them is a fundamental characteristic of being a fallen mortal and Jesus' atonement covers them in mercy. But remembering will help me avoid the tendency to look down on people who have sensitivities that I don't share. Perhaps, rather than being overzealous, my vegan daughter is closer to God's thoughts on diet than I am. Perhaps my neighbour's use of cumbersome, "politically-correct" language reflects a deeper understanding of human dignity than I've achieved. I need to stay open to learning more.
5. My priority needs to be on fixing the particular blind spots God is currently revealing to me. Right now, He isn't prompting me to change my diet. He's inviting me to be much more careful about how I speak of others, especially people who are pursuing agendas I see as destructive. I need to be bold and forthright in counteracting destructive agendas. But I also need to honour the preciousness of the individuals who are their promoters. I need to root out my tendency to giggle at an opponent's disappointments, my smugness and my gloating.
What do blind spots and Jesus' grace toward them mean to you?