14 November 2006

God’s Promises

The Book of Job offers many lessons, and one is that conventional wisdom about God is often wrong. As an example, read Eliphaz’ claim:

"Call to mind now: Who, being innocent, ever perished? And where were upright people ever destroyed? Even as I have seen, those who plow iniquity and those who sow trouble reap the same." (4:7-8)
This may sound good, unless one reads the first and last chapter of Job. In the first, we learn that "[Job] was pure and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil" (1:1), so hardly one deserving of destruction. In the last, we read God’s own rejection of Eliphaz: "My anger is stirred up against you and your two friends, because you have not spoken about me what is right" (42:7). The Book of Job leaves us with a God who blesses and curses whomever he pleases.

So what should we make of these verses:
"And keep the charge of the LORD thy God...that thou mayest prosper in all that thou doest" (1 Kings 2:3)
"The LORD preserveth all them that love him: but all the wicked will he destroy" (Psalms 145:20)
"He that is righteous is favored of God" (1 Nephi 17:33-35)
"Who am I, saith the Lord, that have promised and have not fulfilled?" (D&C 58:31)
"I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say" (D&C 82:10)
With the Book of Job under our arm, we might be reluctant to enter into any agreement with the Lord, fearing that we are either mistaken in our theology (God does not strike bargains) or misplacing our trust (God is too unpredictable). In regard to the latter, we turn to Alma’s words:
"For he will fulfil all his promises which he shall make unto you, for he has fulfilled his promises which he has made unto our fathers" (Alma 37:17)
Alma makes something very clear: God will fulfill the promises he makes to you, the individual. By including this phrase, Alma reminds us that promises are non-transferable; a promise made to one person or group does not necessarily apply to another.

Numerous examples support this idea. One is found in the Book of Mosiah. King Mosiah’s sons decided on missions in hostile Lamanite lands, and their father understandably feared for their lives. The Lord comforts Mosiah with a promise that he would "deliver [Mosiah's] sons out of the hands of the Lamanites" (Mosiah 28:7). While parents today would like to have that same promise as they send their sons and daughters around the world, tragically some missionaries in recent years were not brought home safely.

While this may seem like "harsh doctrine," it is important to understand. The alternative incorrectly assumes participation in certain promises, only to be discouraged or disbelieving when results fall short of expectations.

It is far better to identify which promises have actually been made. Many promises found in the scriptures are available to anyone who complies with the requirements—we could call these "opt-in promises." Notice the inclusive terms "all" and "every":
"For every one that asketh receiveth" (Matthew 7:8)
"sanctification...to all those who love and serve God" (D&C 20:31)
Additionally, modern prophets extend promises on behalf of the Lord:
"Without reservation I promise you that if each of you will...[read the Book of Mormon]..." (GBH, A Testimony Vibrant and True, Ensign, August 2005)
Lastly, while the promises made to King Mosiah may not be ours, we can certainly follow his example. He sought and received a promise specific to his need, and so can we. Patriarchal blessings are one source of these "personalized promises," as are personal prayer and priesthood blessings. Furthermore, King Mosiah brings out an important point often lost in discussions of Job: God is open to ideas. We see this with Abraham, Alma the Younger, and John, among others.

The bottom line is that God is a God of promises. He retains complete control over the terms and the participants, but once he makes a promise he is bound. So why include all those stories in the scriptures if the promises only apply to the people in the stories? Because they demonstrate that God has a habit of making and delivering on his promises:
"For he will fulfil all his promises which he shall make unto you, for he has fulfilled his promises which he has made unto our fathers." (Alma 37:17)


Eric Nielson said...

Very nice Brian!

Also many of these promises are long term.

BrianJ said...

Eric, thanks! I agree that many promises from God are so long-term, they may not even apply to this life. But I know that many apply now as well.

Robert C. said...

Brian, I see some of my comments on your Abraham were premature--that is, you address them here with your fabulous references to passages where God is "open to ideas."

Taking your "conventional wisdom about God is often wrong" idea one step further, I've thought about one moral of Job being about a warning toward any approach to God that tries to pigeon-hole him. This is a reason I've been interested in Continental and Post-Modern philosophy and hermeneutics b/c I think it does a good job of criticizing modern philosophy and theology that seems to want to reduce God to a philosophical system. (See related thoughts in the D&C 93 context here--you'll notice a link on the talk page to a some comments by Joe Spencer who I stole the good part of my ideas from...).

BrianJ said...

Robert C: I liked that D&C 93 discussion very much. "...want to reduce God to a philosophical system." That's very well-said.