I received an indirect “question” regarding my definition of worthiness in my last post (Musings on the Sacrament). This is fair as I did not elaborate on this topic to any great degree. I will attempt to do so here, though this is no simple task. While the concept of worthiness may be relatively simple, we all carry sufficient baggage into the discussion to make it nearly incomprehensible.
In part, this is due to the wide variety of contexts in which worthiness is used. For example, from scripture, we have the context of being “worthy of death.” Another great context is found in Jacob’s prayer to God, “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant (Genesis 32:10).” From the Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language, 1844 we have worthy defined (highlights mine, emphasizing usage within this post):
WORTH´Y, adj. [G. wurdig; D. waardig; Sw. värdig.]
1. Deserving; such as merits; having worth or excellence; equivalent; with of, before the thing deserved. She has married a man worthy of her.
Thou art worthy of the sway. – Shak.
I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies. – Gen. 32.
2. Possessing worth or excellence of qualities; virtuous; estimable; as, a worthy citizen; a worthy magistrate.
Happier thou may’st be, worthier canst not be. – Milton.
This worthy man should worthy things embrace. – Davies.
3. Suitable; having qualities suited to; either in a good or bad sense; equal in value; as, flowers worthy of paradise.
4. Suitable to any thing bad.
The merciless Macdonald,
Worthy to be a rebel. – Shak.
5. Deserving of ill; as, things worthy of stripes. – Luke 12.
In this writing, I wish to constrain the contexts to these two:
- worthiness (suitability) to stand in the presence of God, and
- worthiness (suitability) to make a covenant with God.
Cautionary note: I do not believe that doing this inherently creates a false dichotomy with usage in other contexts, though that possibility certainly exists if misapplied.
Whereas scripture does not seem to provide a specific definition to be used in the latter case, it most certainly does in the former. So, let us make a presumption that these two are closely related and see if we can learn something about the definition from the former context. Then, let us see if we can justify using it for guidance for the latter.
Worthiness to Stand before the Father
For those who believe latter day scripture, this is pretty simple. There are numerous verses that apply (e.g., 1 Nephi 10:21; 1 Nephi 15:34; Alma 40:26; ), but let’s focus on Amulek (highlights mine):
And I say unto you again that he cannot save them in their sins; for I cannot deny his word, and he hath said that no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of heaven; therefore, how can ye be saved, except ye inherit the kingdom of heaven? Therefore, ye cannot be saved in your sins. (Alma 11:37)
I don’t want to multiply many scriptures, but this last portion of the Savior’s definition of His gospel seems inordinately important (highlights mine):
And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end. Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day. Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel…. (3 Nephi 27:19–21)
Many things in the gospel are presumed to be binary when they are not. This does not seem to be one of them. In the world of logic, there is a distinction between “no unclean” and “clean.” “Clean” may be relative. It may even imply degree. The “five-second rule” may apply. “No unclean” is neither relative nor is it an arbitrary threshold on a continuum. It is an absolute. It is consistent with the concept of “repentance of all of [our] sins” and that Christ “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)”
This seems like a good place to remind ourselves how inappropriate it is take the ideas of reaching perfection (acknowledging that this is a poor translation in scripture) and/or attaining to great knowledge and conflating these with worthiness to stand before God. I presume that you fully comprehend this and no elaboration is required. This will become important, shortly.
Have you considered that in attempting to teach us how fundamental it is that the Father will not dwell with that which is unclean, He gave us commandment to separate ourselves from that which is unclean?
And now I say unto you, all you that are desirous to follow the voice of the good shepherd, come ye out from the wicked, and be ye separate, and touch not their unclean things…. (Alma 5:57)
Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. (2 Corinthians 6:17–18)
Perhaps if we valued these concepts to a greater degree ( :- ), we would have a greater appreciation for what the Lord was attempting to do in the Mosaic Law and perhaps one of the reasons He commanded us in 3 Nephi 25:4 (quoting Malachi 4:4) to remember it. It is an interesting exercise to compare the analogs of “good/evil” and “clean/unclean.”
Worthiness to Stand before the Son
It appears that similar (if not the same) rules appear to apply to standing before the resurrected and glorified Lord. For example, using a different context, we see the Savior making clear the conditions under which His presence might be found in the temple (apparently with the purpose of our dwelling with Him).
And ye shall not suffer any unclean thing to come in unto it; and my glory shall be there, and my presence shall be there. But if there shall come into it any unclean thing, my glory shall not be there; and my presence shall not come into it. (D&C 94:8–9; see also: D&C 97:15–16; D&C 109:20)
It is in this vein that we accept the concept that when being brought before the Savior, the very first thing that must transpire is to receive a forgiveness of our sins. From this we come to the concept that He wants to and He is quick to forgive us of our sins under the condition of repentance. We know that this is offered freely. We are the gate. This too will become important, shortly.
Let us close this section with this beautiful scripture from Moses 6:57-61 (highlights mine):
Wherefore teach it unto your children, that all men, everywhere, must repent, or they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God, for no unclean thing can dwell there, or dwell in his presence; for, in the language of Adam, Man of Holiness is his name, and the name of his Only Begotten is the Son of Man, even Jesus Christ, a righteous Judge, who shall come in the meridian of time. Therefore I give unto you a commandment, to teach these things freely unto your children, saying: that by reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory; for by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified; therefore it is given to abide in you; the record of heaven; the Comforter; the peaceable things of immortal glory; the truth of all things; that which quickeneth all things, which maketh alive all things; that which knoweth all things, and hath all power according to wisdom, mercy, truth, justice, and judgment.
What a marvelous thing is the veil. It is closely tied to many important principles, too many to innumerate here (e.g., faith, progression, love, charity, wisdom). To the present purpose, let us consider anew (reflecting back upon the previously referenced paper/posting) the idea of ordinances. We presume that there are ordinances on both sides of the veil (see Isaiah 6:5–7). While there may be more than one thing that differentiates these, one is paramount. On this side of the veil, we are not directly in the presence of the Lord. At best, we see through the veil darkly (see 1 Corinthians 13:12). Would it be inappropriate to presume that without the veil, we would be “burned at His coming,” but that with it, we can be nearly in His presence (and/or in the presence of the Powers of Heaven) without turning to ash (dust)?
This leads to a key question: if we cannot perceive Him with whom we covenant through the veil, does that mean He isn’t present?
If you presume (like me) that such a determination is absurd, then we come to a second key question: how should we approach Him given that we cannot perceive Him just on the other side of that veil, just outside of our vision, just outside of our reach?
It is interesting, isn’t it? To be in the presence of God without the veil to protect us, we presume that we would need to be cleansed from all unrighteousness, to be forgiven of our sins, and perhaps to have proven ourselves faithful till the end. When we add the veil, we adopt a much lesser criteria to judge our worthiness to be in His presence. Rather than teach our children as Moses, above, we teach that guilt can be incapacitating and that God loves us unconditionally (never found in scripture) and that we just need to be trying our best (never found in scripture). We can thus be clean(!) while not having to obsess about those things that might make us unclean. After all, trying to be more than clean would only lead to depression, or worse. Right? Not.
Let us make a presumption that such things are a poor substitute for the real thing, like a diet sweetener that is supposed to help us lose weight, but doesn’t even accomplish that. Are we supposed to gather up all our sins in a trashcan and take them out to the curb to be carried off by the Savior once a year during Yom Kippur or once a week as we partake of the sacrament? God forbid!
What if we presumed that with each new dawning of each new day, we might be able to walk again in the light and enjoy the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. Metaphorically speaking, who controls the length of the night and of the day? If we are to have the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, must we not constantly repent (shorten the night) and be forgiven (lengthen the day)?
As a body of Christians (yes, this appears to be more global than just Mormons), our culture seems to imply that the process of repentance is a barely attainable ideal with complex processes and oppressive gravitas. The natural reaction to this is that receiving forgiveness of our sins is an exceedingly rare and precious gift. As a consequence, we dilute the concept of worthiness to conform to a constant state of sin and guilt, lest we become emotionally immobilized. We are worthy if we hold a temple recommend or pass some other set of criteria (e.g., baptismal interview) that comes far short of demonstrating that we have repented of our sins. Said differently, we accept a simple change in behavior as substitution for a change of heart with a concomitant change in behavior.
Please forgive me, but this seems really quite simple. If we were to truly believe that when we pray, when we take the sacrament, and when we participate in any ordinance that God is right there, just on the other side of an infinitely thin veil, wouldn’t we want to be as free from sin as if there were no veil present at all (again, do not conflate being forgiven of sin with achieving all knowledge and wisdom and other virtues)? If God wants to forgive us, if He is quick to forgive us, why do we make it so difficult, and nearly unobtainable? What if, instead, our culture taught us that repentance is so easy and the ROI is so great that we consistently, and constantly rushed to repent. What if our culture taught us that being forgiven is so easy to achieve (relative to the burden of living under the sin, or said differently, that His yoke truly is light) that we wouldn’t ever consider being in His veiled presence unworthily? Why would we even consider “procrastinating the day [hour, minute] of [our] repentance (Alma 13:27–30)” and “the day [hour, minute] of [our] salvation (Helaman 13:37–39)?”
Could there be any other way to become one with Him?
Could there be any other way to become like Him?
I stand all amazed.
I rarely do this here. Please forgive me for getting truly personal. Many nights I figuratively cry myself to sleep. I can’t seem to get through a single day and “the evil thereof” without being oppressed by my unfaithfulness. Then comes the morning. I resolve. I repent. While I don’t feel like I deserve it, on most mornings forgiveness is given. This occurs mostly while at the kitchen sink looking out at the lake as I say my morning prayer and close out another day of fasting. I stand all amazed. God forgives. I repeat, I don’t deserve it. I am not worthy (definition 1) of His mercy, but He forgives freely. I make it harder than it needs to be, but He forgives easily. I procrastinate too frequently and for too long, but He forgives often and quickly (see: Mosiah 26:30; Moroni 6:8).
I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me.
Christ paid the price. He offers the gift to all who would accept it. If we delay, that’s on us. If we remain unclean, that’s on us. If we are missing the blessings of the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, that’s on us. If we do not enjoy all of the promised gifts of the Spirit, that’s on us.
The objective is not only to be cleansed from all unrighteousness (to be worthy) prior to participating in some point-in-time ordinance. That would be but a token (albeit important) gesture. The expectation set by God is much greater, “remember to keep his commandments always in all things (1 Nephi 15:25).” If God desires that we “always have his Spirit to be with [us] (Moroni 4:3),” that we become like Him (1 John 3:2; Moroni 7:48), and that we become one with Him (DC 35:2), how could it be otherwise?