Friday, September 3, 2010

Of Inheritance and Mansions

I'll never forget the impact of a couple of questions asked by Stephen E. Robinson in his book Believing Christ.  Here are the questions:  When you stand before the judgement bar of God, do you want a fair trial?  (Most people will answer, Yes!)  So, you're telling me that you want to get what you deserve?  (Oh, most certainly not!)  It is fun to watch the sudden and startling paradigm shift that always takes place when I pull the same trick.

I'm fascinated by that word, deserve.  I think it fits perfectly when it comes to punishment.  We do something wrong; we commit sin.  Justice demands that we get the punishment.  It is after all what we deserve.  Gloriously, the Atonement of Jesus Christ can absorb what we deserve enabling Him to offer us mercy, to let us off the hook.  What He expects in return is faith and repentance, a willingly maintained covenant and continued submission to His will and desire for us.  Small price to pay in order the avoid what we deserve.

In our logical and hyper-sensitivity to justice with regard to others, however, we've developed a sense that we also deserve something on the positive side of the spectrum.  If we do good we feel we deserve a reward.  We take it as a right.  If we put in a fair day's work we feel we deserve a fair day's pay.  If we spend a dollar's worth of our hard earned cash we darn well better get a dollar's worth of goods and or services.  We deserve it.  This mortal method of exchange works pretty well for us in general and is an utter disaster in specifics.  Who can honestly suppose that an NBA star deserves his millions while the soldier sweating behind a pile of sandbags in Afghanistan does not?  Who can fairly claim that the movie star deserves her millions and the Kindergarten teacher does not?  In an economy as afoul as ours, those imbalances prevail.  And those who benefit most from the imbalance often feel fully justified on the grounds that they deserve what they're getting; even more!  Meanwhile, many of those who's benefit from their contribution to society is rewarded poorly seem to think that since the imbalance is clearly unfair, it is completely fair to correct it by force.  More and more, we are gravitating toward even competition that rectifies the imbalance by the application of force, often violent force.  "If I can dominate you on the football field or in the board room," we tell ourselves, "I deserve a bigger piece of the pie than you do."

No one is grateful when they obtain something they feel they deserve.  No one is their benefactor but themselves.  We are not inclined to thank our boss for a paycheck we feel we deserve.  Now there are those who are very thankful for their pay checks.  These are grateful for an employer who was gracious enough to offer them a job and are pleased to do their best for the benefit of their employer.  While is fair to expect compensation for their efforts, those who feel they deserve it tend to be dissatisfied with what they're getting and harbor resentments toward rather than appreciation for their benefactor.

This is also true of our relationship with God.  Many of us feel that we can earn our way to Heaven.  Therefore we demonstrate no appreciation toward God for something we are accomplishing quite handily on our own, thank you very much!  Others of us realize that we don't deserve to go to Heaven and acknowledge that neither can we deserve such a privilege.  If, acknowledging the gift of Redemption, we are granted assurance of such joy, it is because it is clear that it comes because of the merits of Christ and not any merit of our own.  Too often we grossly underestimate the strength and extent of His merits.  Without them we would have no air to breathe, no health, no freedom, no capacity and no resources with which to do anything, let alone making progress toward returning to the presence of God.  So, on the positive side of the spectrum the notion of me personally deserving anything is a complete fallacy.  I am entitled to only one thing in this life and that is my free will.  All, and I do mean all, else is a gift for which we can claim no credit with which to purchase or deserve anything. This is a hard concept to buy into in a carrot-and-stick world such as ours.  Nevertheless, it is true and the sooner we ingrain this truth into our consciousness the happier we'll be.  Elder Neal A. Maxwell made this observation:

"Jesus, who accomplished the most by far, was also the most glad to give all the glory to the Father. Alas, even when you and I do place something on the altar, we sometimes hang around as if waiting for a receipt."  (General Conference, October 1997)
In other words, we think our effort deservs a reward and we are sticking around to make sure we're fairly remunerated for our contribution.

We are currently considering the settlement of a parent's estate.  Suppose there are those who think their mere relationship to the departing one entitles them to certain things.  What if others think their presence at an item's acquisition lends strength to its sentimental value and so makes them more deserving than others to be that item's ultimate custodian.  Consider if someone feels that they've given more in service and devotion and so deserve a more significant portion of the booty.  None of these approaches seem very grateful to me.  They all smack of a sense of deserving, a sense of entitlement, a sense that, "If I get the biggest prize I was somehow the most loved or most deserving."  There will be some who'll want no more than a simple memento like a red Texas Tumbler from the kitchen table or a tree from the back yard.  These only want something simple by which they might stimulate memories and feelings of precious moments together, never to be forgotten.  Now, our family are all good people and in the end, I think things will be done equitably and fairly and that no one will have cause to complain that they were unfairly treated.  But that is not my point.

Would it not be better if, rewards and remuneration, accolades and back pats; bigger shares of the pie, had nothing to do with it.  Wouldn't it be better if the services rendered to this marvelous benefactor were done for nothing more than the privilege of doing so?  Without the sniveling hope that one day, there'd be a big, well deserved prize at the end?  Would it not be better that our expressions of love, devotion, loyalty, service, sacrifice and attention were for the benefit of our loved one, with absolutely no thought for ourselves?  Of course it would.

Does it not apply to our Father in Heaven as well?  Are we serving Him for what we might gain?  Or are we doing it for sheer love of Him and His worthy Son?  Talk of Mansions in Heaven is carrot-and-stick talk and may get us started in the right direction.  But ultimately, those who inherit all that Our Father has are those who took no thought of themselves and served Him for the blessed privilege of doing so.  Why?  Because they love Him.  It is clear that those who feel they deserve a mansion on high, won't.

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