This is an exploration of the idea that to God everything is about relationships.
I just read Doctrine and Covenants 29 for the Come, Follow Me lessons for week 13. I was struck over and over again in that section with the things that point out God’s relationship with His children, or at least His desired relationship with them. I will use a marriage relationship or the relationship with a close friend as a basis of comparison. Any close relationship will do, but these two types of relationships are pretty universal.
Section 29 starts off sounding like it is the Savior speaking to Joseph Smith, Jr. But it isn’t long before it sounds more like the Father speaking. Since they are united in all they do, it doesn’t really matter which one is speaking. They often speak for one another, and whatever the one would say, the other would also say in the same situation. So as you read this section don’t worry about who is speaking, for it doesn’t really matter. I have chosen to consider that the voice of the Savior begins the section, but is soon replaced with the voice of the Father part way through the section. Since we are talking about relationships here, this is a good example of two people becoming so close in their cooperative natures that they can speak for each other and it makes no difference who is actually saying the words. This is how it should be in more marriages.
Our relationship with God
When we look at the qualities of a person, and the qualities needed to form good relationships with others, do we look first at what they do for a living? Do we consider what their hobbies are or where they live? What about their income? Do any of these things make or break the ability of two people to form a good relationship with each other? Can the poor and the rich love each other unconditionally? Can a CEO be fast friends with a member of the custodial staff? I would answer that yes, they can. What we do in life really has nothing to do with the relationships we are able to form with others. We may not have the opportunity to make friends with the rich and famous, because we live in different places, but that shouldn’t stop the forming of bonds among righteous people.
If those things that are purely mortal in nature, like our job, make no difference to the kinds of relationships we are able to form with others then where do relationships come from? What is required for us to form permanent bonds with our fellow mortals?
We often look to our social position in life and use those designations to decide who is “worthy” of our time and attention, or perhaps we look at our social position and decide that only those of like interests are valuable enough for our love and affection. We may not couch it in those exact terms, but that is the end result if we are willing to pick and choose who we are willing to serve unconditionally. The problem here is that we are using purely mortal situations and conditions to determine something that should be eternal in nature. That is quite a claim, isn’t it? Let’s look at Adam and Eve and their relationship with God. This is what the Lord says about Adam and Eve.
34 Wherefore, verily I say unto you that all things unto me are spiritual, and not at any time have I given unto you a which was ; neither any man, nor the children of men; neither Adam, your father, whom I created.
35 Behold, I gave unto him that he should be an unto himself; and I gave unto him commandment, but no temporal commandment gave I unto him, for my are ; they are not natural nor temporal, neither carnal nor sensual.
Did you catch the end of verse 35? It says that none of God’s laws are “natural nor temporal.” Those things that are natural and temporal are the things of mortality, those things that are temporary, for when we leave mortality we also leave all things mortal behind us. Everything God has given us is of an eternal nature, and everything eternal in nature has to do with our relationship with God. I will defend this statement in the rest of this article.
Temporal nature and eternal things
This is where things have gotten me lost in the past. I am hoping that the perspective I got from reading section 29 will last me the rest of my days, because my perspective is different today than it was yesterday.
Let’s look at our relationship with our spouse or a close friend. Are there physical things that must be done to foster that relationship? Yes. We must serve them, look out for their welfare, demonstrate respect for their wellbeing and their feelings, their perspective and their agency. There is much that is physical that must be done to build and maintain a relationship. But note that none of these things have anything to do with our job, salary, social position, our upbringing, or our neighborhood. All of these things are outside of what is purely mortal in nature. All of these things are eternal in nature. They are eternal because we take these bonds with us when we pass out of mortality.
This is the same for our relationship with God. It has nothing to do with whether we are homeless or living in one of our eight homes scattered around the world. It has nothing to do with our position in the government or the corporate world. Nor does it have anything to do with our standing in social media or in our popularity with others. Our relationship with God has everything to do with our willingness to listen to Him, to follow His Son, repent of our sins, and serve one another. These are the eternal bonds God is hoping we give priority over anything that is mortal in nature. We first must recognize that everything about God is eternal in nature, and almost everything in mortality ends with our passing from mortality. Only when we see the difference between the temporary and the eternal will we be able to more consistently give priority to the things of God that will save us in the eternities.
So, does God need us to do things in the here and now? Yes, He does. Service, care, respect, love – all these things require action while we are in mortality. Repentance requires a change of behavior, and that is a physical thing, but with eternal consequences. Ministering to others requires service, care and consideration, prayer and fasting, and lots of devotion. But the bonds we are talking about are the celestial bonds that make the Godhead able to function as it does. The Celestial kingdom is peopled by those who have learned to put the needs of others ahead of their own wants. And for those who immediately jump in with the caveat that we need to take care of ourselves first, I agree that we do. But too many of us get so focused on our own needs and wants that we neglect the pressing need to bless the lives of others around us. A celestial attitude is one of giving and caring, more than taking and receiving.
What is the Lord’s will?
In verses 5-9 the Lord tells us what the responsibility of His saints are in this last dispensation. Our job is to gather His elect from the four corners of the earth, to prepare the world for His coming, and to gather His elect on both sides of the veil back into the covenant fold of God. This all takes physical preparation, but it is all done through relationships we forge with those whom we serve. This means that the work is in the present, but the purpose and blessings that come from the immediate labor required of us is eternal in nature.
5 Lift up your hearts and be , for I am in your , and am your with the Father; and it is his good will to give you the .
6 And, as it is written—Whatsoever ye shall in , being in prayer according to my command, ye shall receive.
7 And ye are called to bring to pass the of mine ; for mine elect my voice and not their ;
8 Wherefore the decree hath gone forth from the Father that they shall be in unto one place upon the face of this land, to their hearts and be prepared in all things against the day when and desolation are sent forth upon the wicked.
9 For the hour is nigh and the soon at hand when the earth is ripe; and all the and they that do wickedly shall be as ; and I will them up, saith the Lord of Hosts, that wickedness shall not be upon the earth;
The Lord acknowledges in verse 8 that the purpose of gathering all the people back into the covenant protection of the gospel of Christ is to have our hearts prepared, and for us to be emotionally, physically, and spiritually prepared for “the day when tribulation and desolation are sent forth upon the wicked.” This is important work in which we are engaged. We are preparing the earth for the day the Lord returns and burns all corruption and evil from the face of the planet, ushering in the thousand years of peace.
Verse 17 demonstrates beautifully that all the Lord is concerned about is our relationship with Him.
17 And it shall come to pass, because of the wickedness of the world, that I will take upon the , for they will not repent; for the of mine is full; for behold, my shall not them if they hear me not.
The atoning sacrifice of Christ is sufficient to save any and all who repent, but only those who repent. Repentance is the process through which we seek reconciliation with God through reaffirming our obedience to the commandments Christ has given us. It is this strengthening of, and our recommitment to, our relationship with Christ and our Father in Heaven that enables Christ to forgive us of our sins.
Faith without works
Can we be saved with works alone? No. For no relationship is based on just action. A servant can serve his master for years and still hate the master. With God, all He cares about is the quality of the relationship we want to build with Him. That requires trust, obedience, faith, kindness, mercy, etc. This has to go both ways for a relationship to work. We can’t show God mercy, but He has commanded us to show mercy to those around us. Hence He tells us that when we do it to others, we do it to Him.
Faith is demonstrated by the works of our professed belief. To profess belief in something does nothing for us. It is only when we declare our belief then follow it up with action to show our commitment to that belief that we are able to exercise faith. So I don’t believe that faith is even possible without works being involved. This is the same with our relationship with our spouse or friend. We give them the benefit of the doubt and seek to support them in any way we can. We exercise faith in them and put ourselves on the line to demonstrate that faith in our belief in their intentions and abilities.
I used to question the Lord’s claim that all His commandments were spiritual. I see now that all commandments take a combination of physical and spiritual response to fulfill. How do you obey any commandment without doing something physically to respond to it? How do you serve your fellow man without getting off your couch and doing something? Faith can’t be fulfilled or exercised without action. But all these things are towards an eternal goal in mind. All commandments teach us how to become more Christlike, more godly, more holy in our thinking, our disposition, and our behavior. It really doesn’t matter what we do in life to put food on our table. What counts is how we live from moment to moment, in how we treat others, and in where we put our relationship with God and our fellow travelers in mortality on our list of priorities. There really are no commandments that deal with just temporal affairs, for all commandments bring us closer to God, and that is their purpose.
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