The Doctrine of Compassion

Comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable

The other day at Church, the Sunday School teacher posed the question, “In the New Testament, what attributes of Christ stick out to you?”

The answer that was on my mind and that I gave was, “That he stuck out.  He challenged many of the beliefs and the traditions of the people that he taught.”  I suppose I could have added Harold B. Lee’s true assessment, “He comforted the afflicted and he afflicted the comfortable” [1]

As a people, we Mormons know the value of the commandments.  Everyone knows the powerful scripture, “There is a law irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated” [2].

We can testify of the blessings from the Word of Wisdom.  We know that when we pay our tithing first, we can feel the windows of heaven open and pour out a blessing.

But in our zeal to keep all of God’s commandments, we remember an equally important covenant we have made: to “mourn with those that mourn; yea, and [to] comfort those that stand in need of comfort” [3].

The Example of Christ

Christ was the best example of this, and it really challenged the almost law-obsessed attitudes of the Pharisees. To give a few examples:

“And when the Pharisees saw [that Jesus ate with sinners and publicans], they said unto his disciples, “Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?”  But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick” [4].

To give you an idea of what a social no-no associating with publicans was, here’s what the Bible Dictionary has to say about them: “Men who bought or farmed the taxes under the Roman government were called publican.  The name is also used to describe those who actually collected the money, and who were properly called portitores.  Both classes were detested by the Jews, and any Jew who undertook the work was excommunicated.”  You get the idea.  There are plenty of groups that can evoke such a response in the Church—couples in a same-sex relationship, someone struggling with an addiction, someone going through a divorce, someone who has been excommunicated.  The social shaming isn’t new.

 

Another example: A man named Zacchaeus, also a publican, was desirous to hear Christ, but could not because of the large crowd.  He tried to get a view from a tree.  “And when Jesus came to that place, he looked up and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house.  And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.  And when they saw it, they all murmured saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner” [5].

 

Jesus was dining with a well-off Pharisee by the name of Simon.  When a woman known to be a sinner entered and began to wash his feet with her tears and anoint them with oil, Simon was offended, saying to himself, “This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.”

Jesus responded: “Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head.  Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet.  My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment.  Wherefore, I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little” [6].

 

You get the idea from Jesus that the most important commandments are those that deal with other people.  We sometimes invert these priorities.  It is telling indicator that one of the most difficult responsibilities we have as members, home teaching, takes a low priority.

This is something we should seriously reflect on and think how we can be better as ward members, as parents, as church leaders, as home teachers, and as neighbors.

 

The Spirit of the Law

The thing that Jesus did was he raised his listener’s view above the law to what the law was meant to teach.  What was the purpose of the law?

The law says, do not commit adultery.  Christ taught, whoever even looks at a woman in lust already committed adultery in his heart.

The laws said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.  Christ taught to turn the other cheek.

The law says to love your neighbor and hate your enemy.  Christ taught to love your enemies and bless them that curse you.

 

Modern Examples

A few modern examples.  Many know Al Fox, author of “More than the Tattooed Mormon.”  Al Fox is a convert to the Church.  She has quite the collection of tattoos.  You can imagine that when she came to Utah, she got a few comments.  She shares her story on her blog.  But here is an excerpt from her first day in Utah:

“So here I am, my very first day across the country in my new home, alone, and what am I suppose to do now? I haven’t the slightest idea.  Heavenly Father didn’t tell me that much yet, haha.  I ended up at Café Rio & you have to visualize this, you know how the line kind of snakes around, so you are in a big group of people while waiting? Well, I was right in the middle of it, and I was holding a church book in my hands.  It was more of a grasp/hug to the book; it was a biography of one of the prophets.  And while I was waiting in line I felt very tense.  I could feel stares in every direction; it felt like lasers.  I stood there stiff trying to ignore it but I couldn’t.  I could physically feel the stares from everyone.  Finally, the guy next to me tapped me on the arm and said, “You know… it ‘s pretty ironic you look the way you do holding that book.” My heart broke.  Stomach knotted.  Eyes teary” [7].

 

A quote from Gordon B. Hinckley is included in Preach My Gospel showing how hard it can be for new members in the Church: ‘ “Church members don’t know what it is like to be a new member. … therefore, it’s almost impossible for them to know how to support us.”

‘I challenge you, my brothers and sisters, that if you do not know what it is like, you try to imagine what it is like.  It can be terribly lonely.  It can be disappointing.  It can be frightening.  We of this Church are far more different from the world than we are prone to think we are.  This woman goes on: “When we as investigators become members of the Church, we are surprised to discover that we have entered into a completely foreign world, a world that has its own traditions, culture, and language.  We discover that there is no one person or no one place of reference that we can turn to for guidance in our trip into this world.  At first the trip is exciting, our mistakes even amusing, then it becomes frustrating, and eventually, the frustration turns into anger.  And it’s at these stages of frustration and anger that we leave.  We go back to the world from which we came, where we knew who we were, where we contributed, and where we could speak the language” [8].

 

The final thing example I wanted to use comes from President Uchtdorf’s 2013 address “Come Join with Us.”  In it, he offers a place in the Church to those who are experiencing doubts, who are struggling with Church standards, and who perhaps just feel that they don’t fit in.  But I think this is just as much a challenge for us members.  We need to accept people who are different.

Some might ask, “But what about my doubts?”

We need to accept people who question aspects of Church history.  We need to accept people who feel they don’t have a testimony.  We need to accept people who struggle to accept some of the positions the Church has taken in politics.

Some might say, ‘I just don’t fit in with you people in the Church.”

We need to find people who feel this way and reach out to them.  There shouldn’t be people we actively avoid at Church.  That one guy who always starts arguments in Sunday School.  The other guy who always wears street clothes instead of a shirt and tie.  The family that only comes occasionally.  There is no room for that kind of judgment in the Church.

Some might say, “I don’t think I could live up to your standards” [9]

Accept that some people struggle—we all struggle.  “Don’t judge me because I sin differently than you.”  We as members can be very intense.  We can be too hard on ourselves and others.

 

Each of this is not only an invitation to members who are struggling to stay in the Church.  It is an invitation to US to seek them out and seek to be loving, compassionate, and understanding.

 

Does this mean we have to water down doctrine? No! Elder Holland taught, “My young brothers and sisters, the Church can never ‘dumb down’ its doctrines in response to social goodwill or political expediency.  It is only on the high ground of revealed truth that gives us any footing on which to lift another who feels troubled or shaken.”  Christ was the best example of this.  You can accept revealed doctrine AND lift those who struggle.  It’s not an either/or problem.

With the restored gospel, we have every reason to be more loving, to be more compassionate, to be more accepting.

 

[1] https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2011/04/an-ensign-to-the-nations?lang=eng

[2] D&C 130:20-21

[3] Mosiah 18:9

[4] Matthew 9:10-13

[5] Luke 19:1-10

[6] Luke 7:36-50

[7] http://alfoxshead.blogspot.com/2013/04/tattooed-mormon.html

[8] https://www.lds.org/manual/preach-my-gospel-a-guide-to-missionary-service/how-do-i-work-with-stake-and-ward-leaders?lang=eng

[9] https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2013/10/come-join-with-us?lang=eng

 

P.S. Another example from a book I am reading, “Re-reading Job: Understanding the Ancient World’s Greatest Poem” that I wasn’t able to fit in:

“When Job says things like this, he forces his interlocutors to choose between supporting their friend and supporting their God. Simply being in the presence of a blasphemous utterance had moral consequences for pious Jews. Jewish law took blasphemy very seriously. Blasphemers had to be stoned, and those who heard the blasphemy had to do the stoning (Lev. 24:13–14). Job’s Comforters are not Jewish, of course, but they are literary characters created for a Jewish audience who would have immediately appreciated their moral dilemma: to sympathize with Job as he criticized God would have made them complicit in his blasphemy. To remain free of sin, they had to abandon a friend in a time of great need.
“Much like the priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan, Job’s Comforters fear being contaminated by something theologically objectionable. The priest and the Levite do not want to risk ritual uncleanliness by touching a dead body. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar don’t want to risk the moral contagion of listening to Job’s blasphemous complaints against God. In both cases, the representatives of the orthodox religion choose abstract theological purity above the physical and spiritual needs of another human being. For both Jesus and the Job poet, it is the wrong choice.”

 

 

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