So many of us walk away from church on Sunday feeling heavier instead of lighter. So many of us leave with troubled hearts, filled with the heavy burden of not measuring up, feeling that we will never be good enough or that we should always do better. But this can’t be what Jesus intended for his church. Jesus said he came to give us peace, not to take it away. (John 14:27.) Jesus came to help us feel unburdened and light, not heavy. (Matthew 11:28-30.)
If this is how you feel a lot of the time, read on. I think I may have something helpful for you.
I want you to imagine with me for just a minute. I know you most often think of the commandments and teachings of Jesus as things you must do or follow to make it to some yonder, future heaven. But I want you to suspend that way of thinking for just a moment.
Assume with me that you’re wrong about that. In fact, if it’s helpful, assume that there is no afterlife or heaven, no “reward” at the end of the race. Instead, assume for a moment that this life is all there is and the commandments are instructions about how to find peace and happiness in mortality … how you can achieve a little heaven on earth right here and now.
If you were to go back and re-read the scriptures from this perspective how would that change things for you?
For example, Matthew 5:44—”bless them that curse you”—would no longer be part of your entrance fee to heaven. You wouldn’t have to feel shame, guilt or unworthy of God every time you “break” this commandment. You wouldn’t have to feel like a failure just because you can’t live up to this seemingly impossible standard. Instead, you might just discover that this “commandment” of Jesus is actually a very practical and helpful way of letting go of anger and finding peace so that you can be happy right here and now.
The commandments and teachings of Jesus are not requirements for admission to God’s presence but are helpful tools for living happily.
For example, I have found that keeping the commandments brings immediate blessings, like the peace I feel when I have held my tongue, been the bigger person, or done something kind to someone who wronged me. (Mosiah 2:24; Alma 34:31-32.) I have also found that breaking them brings natural consequences such as addiction, fear, anger, anxiety, conflict, etc. These are the punishments and consequences spoken of in the scriptures. But I no longer worry about pleasing or angering God or losing credit towards my entrance fee to heaven when I die.
I primarily see the commandments and teachings of Jesus not as requirements for admission to heaven but as helpful tools for living happily. If you want to find peace and happiness, try living the way Jesus said we should live. If you don’t … don’t.
But please don’t tell me I’m going to hell or that God is angry at me because I can’t eat every jot and tittle of food from the generous buffet of guidance, help and instruction Jesus so lovingly laid out for me in the scriptures. I’m not eating that bread. (Matthew 16:6, 11-12.) Jesus was trying to feed my soul, not suffocate it.
God wants you to change, not so you are worthy of him, but so you can be happy like him.
Moreover, that’s just not how God is. The first thing the Book of Mormon teaches us about God is his “goodness.” (1 Nephi 1:1.) Nephi testified that God is full of “power, and goodness, and mercy.” (1 Nephi 1:14.) His promise was to “show … you … the tender mercies of the Lord.” (1 Nephi 1:20.) The last thing the Book of Mormon teaches us about God is that he is gracious. (See Moroni 10:32-33.) God is not some narcissist who wants to be worshiped and who gets offended any time we don’t do things exactly his way. He’s not obsessed with obedience. He doesn’t have a dominant-submissive obsession. He’s not an inflexible rule-obsessed Pharisee. It’s very simple. God is love. (1 John 4:7-21.)
God loves you just the way you are, and nothing can or will ever change that. (Romans 8:31-39.) I choose to believe what King Benjamin said—it’s not about being good enough, it’s never been about being good enough, and it never will be about earning or deserving anything … the sooner you realize this, the happier you’ll be. (Mosiah 2:20-21; Mosiah 4:11-12.)
In contrast, some hold the dismal view that the purpose of mortality is “to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.” (Abraham 3:25.) That’s just silly. First, God already knows everything—there’s nothing for him to find out. (D&C 38:1–2.) Second, of course we’re not going to keep every commandment—otherwise, the atonement wouldn’t have been prepared from the foundation of the world. (Mosiah 4:6.) Simply put, this view seems doctrinally unsound and very unpersuasive. Thank goodness we don’t believe in sola scriptura. (See Book of Mormon, Title Page (“if there are faults they are the mistakes of men”).)
No, it’s not about keeping all the rules or changing so that you’re good enough for God. We’ll all be redeemed. God wants us all back. (Mormon 9:13.)
God wants you to change, not so you are worthy of him, but so you can be happy like him. (Alma 41:10-11.) Ironically, if you live as if there is no heaven you might just find a little bit of it right here, right now. And if you’re fortunate enough to create a little heaven on earth, that’s the way you’ll spend eternity. (Mormon 9:14.)