Saturday, September 6, 2014

We Shouldn't Judge Ourselves or Others for the Thorns of Our Flesh

And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.  (2 Corinthians 12:7) 

The assertion that “wanting to repent of it” is all that is required to be able to change one's weaknesses and repent fully is problematic for those who struggle to overcome deeply ingrained inclinations and never totally conquer them in this life - and, to some degree, in some way, that applies to each and every one of us. For example, I know quite a few people who want badly to react differently to their children in stressful situations but can’t conquer their current reactions totally - and I would never claim that their desire to repent simply isn’t strong enough.  There are things about my own "natural man" that I am not sure I will be able to eliminate in this life.  The conclusion is simple but profound:

Some things are thorns of the flesh that will go away only in the resurrection.  If Paul, the apostle, and Nephi could write what they wrote about this issue, it's important to cut ourselves and others some slack and not insist that everything is fixable if only we really want to repent. 

That is not a blanket excuse for any action that the Church deems to be sin. It merely points out the danger in blaming one’s inability to control perfectly one’s deeply ingrained impulses and inclinations on an inadequate desire to change. The beauty of the Atonement, in my opinion, is not just that we can receive strength to change in the here and now, but also that we can receive grace for our efforts even when we cannot change in the here and now.  To even imply that not being able to conquer something completely is a matter of lack of faith or desire to repent denies the Atonement in a very real, practical way.  

I think that points to the need for those who find they struggle (or even are unable to) live a command completely at least to strive to live as close to the ideal as possible. It might not be the ideal, but all of us are commanded to try to live as closely to the ideal as we individually are able - trusting that the Lord in His infinite wisdom will understand our hearts and make up the difference. I’m not going to be judged against any other individual, and I’m not going to be judged against a universal, Mosaic Law-like standard; I’m going to be judged against myself - what I did with what I was given. Since I have enough problem understanding myself fully and have no idea the exact extent of any other person’s struggle to deal with his/her own thorns, I try to preach the ideal but not hold anyone to that ideal - trusting God to know all of our hearts and, in the end, be merciful, loving and long-suffering with his children.

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