Sunday, September 4, 2011

Laws, Punishment, Mercy

As a mom I have a hard time setting boundaries, making rules and being consistent with consequences when those rules are broken. It took years for me to understand that rules are actually a very necessary and GOOD thing. My mindset used to be that rules were made to be broken, that conventional ideas of what we should or shouldn't do were just ideas being forced upon us to keep us from doing what we want. (Some of that likely came from my father enforcing "his" rules without ever explaining why they were necessary or valuable. I was the type of kid who needed to know that there was a valid reason for doing or not doing something.)

Thankfully I figured out how valuable rules were before my daughter hit her teen years, and have tried to teach her the value of laws, rules, and etiquette. It took some very painful lessons to understand why some rules are in existence and I didn't want my daughter to learn in the same way I did. Laws and rules are important because they give us clear parameters for our behavior, as well as easily defined boundaries of what is right and wrong. Without rules and laws, there would be chaos.

I think we can look at modern society and see that this is true. God gave us a set of laws and commandments, all of which can be wrapped up in the two greatest "love God and love your neighbor as yourself." If we use common sense and some sensitivity we can easily figure out that loving God and others means that we won't do anything to harm them- we won't cheat, steal, lie, commit adultery, kill, etc.

What's sad nowadays is that there often is no punishment for breaking civil or God's laws anymore. It often seems as though people "get away" with bad behavior and crimes. Society as a whole seems to have forgotten the value of following the very laws that help keep order. We are losing a large measure of safety and civility because there's no fear of punishment for doing what's wrong. Heck, most of society can no longer even define what is right or wrong.

The really sad part of all of this is that people don't comprehend the consequences of their actions. Most don't realize that punishments will come when they break the rules, whether they recognize those punishments or not.
In Alma 42:22 it states "But there is a law given, and a punishment affixed, and a repentance granted; which repentance, mercy claimeth; otherwise, justice claimeth the creature and executeth the law, and the law inflicteth the punishment; if not so, the works of justice would be destroyed, and God would cease to be God."

God hasn't changed his rules, and He hasn't taken away the consequences for breaking His commandments. Although our civil laws may not do much about breaking the Sabbath, committing adultery, having sex before marriage, or breaking our promises, God still holds us accountable. Unfortunately, God's punishments aren't always openly apparent. Someone who isn't familiar with the presence of the Holy Ghost in their life probably isn't going to immediately notice the absence of Him. To them, it may seem as if life just isn't going right... things aren't falling in place, confusion and unhappiness seem to be the order of the day. But they don't think to look to their own actions to see if they are the cause. God's punishment may be as simple as withholding certain blessings, which inobservant people don't even notice.

By not recognizing that what you are doing is wrong, you are denied the opportunity to take advantage of the repentance that's been granted. By renouncing the very laws that God gave, we are also preventing mercy from taking effect. After all, how can a person experience forgiveness if they don't repent? And how can they repent if they aren't even aware that they've broken a law? How can they know the laws if the laws no longer exist?

I think that's why societies always had civil laws in addition to religious laws. If everyone believed in God, followed His commandments, and felt bad when they did what was wrong, then life would be really good for the majority of the human race. But with so many differing opinions on religious laws and commandments, we needed basic civil laws to create harmony. We had to have agreement as to what constitutes right or wrong. Our civil laws used to do that.

In modern society we have tended to move in the opposite direction. There is no unity when it comes to defining right and wrong. "Old" morals have been set aside in favor of political correctness and non-discrimination. No longer are people expected to honor the vows they make, to be honest in their daily dealings, to keep the Sabbath holy, or to even live up to their commitments to their family. If there is a punishment for the breaking of the more common civilities, it's often not inflicted upon the guilty party. Without fear of punishment, people feel free (even encouraged at times) to do whatever they want. They act in their own interest with no thought of how their actions affect others, because their actions never produce any punishments.

Our society is doing a great injustice in permitting people to blatantly disregard God's laws and the basic rules our country was founded upon. Without knowledge of the laws they should be following, people are in a state of confusion and the result is chaos. They no longer have an impulse to seek God, repent, and enjoy peace in this life and eternal joy in the next. They are missing out on the whole point of their existence on this planet. Which is why it's so important that those of us who have the truth continue to live it, teach it, and share it. After all, how are they going to know if someone doesn't tell them?

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