So this topic has been on my mind for a while, but this weekend has really pulled it to the front of my thoughts.
The other night Josh and I were watching an episode of "Blue Bloods" which is one of our favorite TV shows.
In this episode the main characters (a strongly catholic family) were seated around the dinner table talking about different religions. One young boy stated that he wanted to become Jewish because he'd been to several bar mitzvahs and they were a lot of fun and the kids involved received tons of fabulous gifts. The dad chuckled and then pointed out that if they were Jewish they wouldn't be eating the pork roast that was on the table and they'd have to give up bacon as well.
Then came the bit that I loved, the grandfather sagely shook his head and said, "Ah, bacon -- the ultimate test of faith."
Josh and I laughed out loud. It was pretty hilarious, but it was also kind of true. Devoted people of almost all religions are asked to adhere to rules or commandments and to demonstrate their faith through obedience.
Now, our religion (we are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) does not require that we give up pig meat (which is nice because I love those little oinkers), but it does offer us many opportunities for obedience in areas that people of other faiths may not understand or agree with. We have commandments concerning alcohol and coffee and modesty and profanity and chastity and on and on. You get the picture. There are a lot of "fun" things that we are taught to keep out of our lives.
However, obedience is not a shallow, wasted effort. It is not just a masochistic desire to appear pious by avoiding pleasurable offerings from the buffet table of life. It is instead a desire to qualify for blessings and peace that can only come to us as we obey the commandments of God. When we choose to be obedient there are freedoms and choices offered to us that are not available any other way.
For example, by choosing to avoid alcohol, drugs and pornography we are not tied to their addictive tendrils and ensnared in their venomous trap. By attending church weekly, reading scriptures and praying we qualify to feel the influence and protective power of the Holy Ghost guiding our lives. By obeying the Lord's law of chastity we can become co-creators with Him in molding happy families (ok, maybe not every moment, but overall) which can be eternal if sealed in God's temple.
Will others think our choices are ridiculous? Yes. Absolutely. Will they turn up their noses and maybe even mock and jeer at us? Maybe. We hope not, but maybe.
However, God's commandments ask for no justification. They simply are. Believe them or not, follow them or ignore them, they are still His expectations for us.
In general conference this weekend Elder L. Tom Perry of the quorum of the twelve apostles (Sunday morning session at the 1:08:00 mark) pointed out that in today's society most people still believe in maybe four of the original 10 commandments outlined in the Bible. Avoiding lying (#9), stealing (#8)and murdering (#6) and then caring for our families (#4) are still pretty universally accepted as important principles.
However, the other six commandments have pretty much been thrown to the wind. We (as a society) worship many secular things before we bother to think of God (like fashion, jobs, sports etc), we use God's name however we feel like it, we treat the Sabbath day like a joyride, we commit every kind of adultery and sexual sin imaginable and we not only desire but demand that we have everything anyone else has if we want it all the while expecting to be supported in our transgressions and excused from judgement because "that's just the way I am" or "you just don't understand my needs" or some other such nonsense.
It's important to remember that we are all struggling along this road. We all fumble our way through to some degree. We help each other by offering love and kindness and understanding even when one of our fellow travelers is choosing a path which laughs in the face of God's laws. We can care about the person without accepting his or her choices.
I -- like you -- have struggles and temptations in my life. I wander off God's path just like everyone else does. I'm not proud of that, but it is a fact of life. I am faced with issues that are difficult for me and places where I simply do not measure up to the standard my loving God has set for me (which, incidentally, leaves me grateful for the atonement because it gives me a chance to repent and work to improve).
However, my weakness is no reason for lowering God's standards. God does not alter His eternal principles just to make it so we don't have to try to overcome anything. Heaven forbid we stretch our spiritual muscles to strengthen ourselves and grow (note the deep vat of sarcasm there).
We can make every excuse in the book as to why we do not have to be obedient, but what we are really doing is excusing ourselves from the blessings God promises us if we choose to follow His ways.
We have agency. We can choose to do whatever we want with our lives. However, we cannot choose the consequences of our choices. If we choose to be obedient we will be blessed (no choice on that consequence either, although I guess we don't normally complain when we're given blessings). If we choose not to be obedient we will not receive those blessings and we are also subject to guilt, loss of the spirit, anguish of soul, and other unpleasant consequences (all tools God uses to help us want to return to His path).
We do not get to change the commandments if they are inconvenient for us. They are not ours to change.
Our choice comes in whether we will be faithful and obedient and live the standards God has set and therefore choose the rich blessings He yearns to give us, or whether we will excuse ourselves from His blessings and choose to follow another path.
(Also, check out President Thomas S. Monson's talk on obedience from the Sunday morning session of general conference...it pretty much rocks -- starts about the 1:28:00 mark.)