Lately I have been struck by the amount of moral relativism in society. At the same time, we look to government leaders to set things “right” as we see it. There are many who fear the right to speak and act from their conscience is being diminished — especially if the conscience is guided by faith in God — while others seem to be demanding that their right to live life as they please not only be accepted but embraced by everyone else.
Since logic concludes that we cannot all be right, how do I decide? How am I supposed to respond when I live in a world that seems to be so intolerant of me, while demanding ultimate tolerance of me?
The Matchless Gift of the Holy Ghost
After being baptized to have all of my sins cleansed, I was confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by men who held priesthood authority — and through them I was was given the gift of the Holy Ghost. This gift is the right to have the Holy Spirit as my companion every moment of my life — as long as I keep up my side of the covenants I’ve made with God.
One of the “jobs” of the Spirit is to help people tell the difference between truth and error. Another is to give witness to the reality of a living Father in Heaven and a living, risen Savior, Jesus Christ. That witness has sunk deep into my heart, and I know that there is a God in Heaven who has declare and taught moral laws and standards. These are given not as restrictions, but as loving guidance to help me have the most joy possible here in a mortal world, and also the highest blessings I can receive in the world to come.
So, if I know that these things are true, what do I do about those who see life from a completely different perspective, who doubt that God even exists, or who simply want to live life by their own rules?
“You are Responsible for You”
This is the caption that hung on a poster I had in my classroom for years. As I teacher, I not only wanted to cut down on the amount of tattling I heard and the number of busy-bodies interrupting the lesson, I wanted to quietly teach the principle of holding myself to the highest standards was something I desired from each of my students. While it was like putting my pinkie finger in a hole the size of a small car to try to stop a water leak, the principle is still a good one.
In the end, I can only work out my own salvation before God. I can’t make anyone else play by my rules, and I’m only going to get frustrated if I try. Each person who has come to this earth to live has been given the gift of agency — free will — to choose for himself or for herself what they will do about the questions of a good life. My knowing that God has given eternal rules and guidelines to help us doesn’t give me the right to insist that others live by my choices.
“My Brother’s Keeper”
Perhaps that was the principle that Cain was trying to invoke after he had murdered Abel. It’s easy to feel hopeless and useless if I can only take care of myself.
The other side of the truth is that each individual has the opportunity to influence countless others. And, we are responsible for what we do with that power of influence. In my opinion, there are a lot of good things that we can accomplish with influence:
- I can set an example. The people with whom I have regular contact should know what is most important in my life. (God, family, work, friends, etc.) My choices, the topics of my conversation, and the words I choose should all give me away. Ideally, they will inspire others around me to try a little harder to be a little better.
- I can be open. It is normal for people to have questions. They should know that I am willing to talk to them about my faith, my values, and my standards. Without forcing an issue, I should have the courage to mention these things as they flow naturally into a conversation, rather than avoid them so that I don’t risk offending someone.
- I can encourage and show compassion. The Savior is to be my ultimate guide and example. Every person I have ever met is looking to be valued, and every person I have ever met (yes, including the ex-husband) has something to value. As I have grown in my faith, I have found that it is possible to focus on that good. Usually, focusing on the good and encouraging others ignites a motivation to continue to keep trying.
- I can withhold judgement. This may be the hardest part for me. I still have to remind myself of the idea of two brains: if anyone had two brains to chose from each morning, would the pick the out-dated, old-version, scratch-and-dent model, or would they choose the shiny, new, state-of-the art brain to use each day? Almost everyone would choose to use their best brain, and in reality, they are. If their decisions look wrong to me, it is because I am looking at life from a different perspective and cannot see what factors their choices are being based on. I can, however, rest assured that they are doing the best they can with what they’ve got — just like I am.
- Recognize that the rules are a bit different as a parent. In that case, I am entrusted with the duty to guide my children, to teach them, and to set standards of acceptable behavior. This means that I will expect them to share in what is important to me until the time that they are able to leave my home and make their own rules. If children were able to make decisions as informed adults, they wouldn’t need parents.
My Real-Life Example
After joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I was overwhelmed by how good everyone appeared. Even though I had been warned by the missionaries that taught me and by new friends in my new church, the people looked pretty doggone perfect to me! When I actually had to come face-to-face with the knowledge that there are members of my church who show up for the good social appearance and live lived untouched by the principles they pretend to believe, I was devastated. I went through all the stages of grief:
- Denial and isolation: I felt like I had to be the one that was wrong. Surely things couldn’t be the way they were just presented to me. I didn’t see what I saw, I didn’t hear what I heard. I so adored my perfect little world in the church and the safety that I had felt it afforded me that I didn’t want to believe anything else could be true.
- Anger: I wanted to set people straight. I wanted to go to church authorities. I wanted to get those people out of my church so that I could have back the safety net that I had come to rely on — even if it was built on fantasy.
- Bargaining and Depression: I think I went through these together. Surely there was something I could do to make things better. Maybe I could fast and pray enough to buy special attention for them from Heavenly Father and he would perform some sort of miracle to get them back in line. The more I tried, the more I recognized that I couldn’t trump their agency no matter how much I wanted to, and I felt like I had failed and fell into depression.
- Acceptance: Looking back, the whole thing seems a little absurd, even though there have been some more recent examples that show that I still desire to have everyone live by my rules. (Maybe it’s a part of human nature?) Even so, there are some truths that keep me going:
- Heavenly Father knew how things would be before He ever set the creation of this earth and the plan of salvation in motion. Even so, He has still promised that there is nothing that can happen during mortal life that is beyond his power to set right.
- God has been using imperfect people since the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. So far, He has been able to successfully use imperfect people on this earth to further His plans.
- I, too, am a sinner. I am short-sighted, I make bad decisions, I blow things to “high-heaven.” I, too, need a Savior. I, too, need to be able to walk my own path of repentance and spiritual growth without worrying how others are going to perceive me. I, too, need that grace and compassion extended to me, and I need to extend it to everyone around me.
- If God can turn me around, He can turn anyone. He’s just going to do it in His own time and in His own way.