Cause and Effect in Religion and Life

It is easy to feel like life is a series of events that happen to us, that are entirely outside our control. Consider the story of Job in the Old Testament; he lived a worthy life, but had to suffer great loss, physical pain, and the rejection of family and friends. Certainly, Job could have considered himself a being that was being acted upon, like his friends at the time encouraged, rather than a being that was created to act (see this 1 minute video for some brief context.)

Ultimately the question to ask is: Was Job merely a victim in his circumstance? We know, having his full story in front of us, that the Lord had a purpose in testing Job. Because of his life, and willingness to endure, we have an almost ultimate example of faith through trials. We have an understanding also, because of Job, that not all bad things that happen to us are a result of sin or unworthiness; in other words, not every bad thing in our lives is a punishment. That concept was not entirely clear for the people of Israel at the time, and even after that time, but it is abundantly clear now, in part because of Job.

With Job we begin to see the disconnect between cause and effect in our lives. Bad things can happen to good people, and vice versa. We know from Matthew 5:45 that God makes the sun shine and the rain fall on the good and on the wicked. With that knowledge in place, we should further consider Job’s situation by asking: How did Job respond?

We are beings that were created to act. We were given moral agency in this life; the ability to choose for ourselves how we would act and react. What happens to us in life is not necessarily an effect of something we did, but how we choose to act and react to life is entirely in our control. And our choices and actions will have consequences; if not in this life, then certainly in the next.

Imagine if Job had not gone through his trials with faith. Now move ahead to Christ, our ultimate example, and imagine what our spiritual outlook would be if He had chosen not to drink of that bitter cup, which He begged might be removed from Him. Christ was perfect, without sin, yet suffered for every sin of mankind. He did not cause His own suffering, yet he chose to patiently bear our grief and our burdens.

The scriptures are full of cause and effect. But they are also focused entirely on a being, even Jesus Christ Himself, who suffered for things he did not do, so that we could have hope. As we go through our lives, suffering sometimes for things we did not do and over which we have no control, we should remember who we can turn to, and who we can lean on, in our times of trouble. Perhaps we will be able to look past the surface causes and effects in our lives, and view the greater cause and effect of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and overcome all things. That is my prayer for each of us.

Doing the Will of the Lord

It is one thing to know, and quite another thing to do. You can open the scriptures, read and study, and become quite knowledgeable concerning the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You can become an expert on the life of Christ, the acts of the Apostles after he lived, and even the entire history of Judaism leading up to His birth among men. You can fill your mind with wonderful stores of useful and beautiful knowledge.

But all of that would only fill your mind with good things. To actually do the will of the Lord is another step.

In Romans chapter 12, we read what we must do that we might “prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” And the TODO list is not a list of things to learn, or feel, or think. It is a list of things to do: prophecy, teach, exhort, donate to the poor, be affectionate, hard working, continuing in prayer, rejoicing with those that rejoice, weeping with those that weep, being honest with all men, feeding our enemies, and overcoming evil with good.

That is a long list of things to do.

In the Book of Mosiah, chapter 4, we are told a long list of things to believe in, including repentance. But the prophet Mosiah is careful not to leave it at that; at the end of his exhortations, he adds: “and now, if you believe all these things see that ye do them.”

To know is not enough. Even to believe is not enough. We must do the will of the Lord, as Christ did when He set the ultimate example for us, by suffering and dying for our sins. In Matthew chapter 7, at the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, Christ teaches that “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”

Grace, and the Next Steps of Doing

At this point, some Christians may be tempted to dive into a discussion about the merits of Grace and works. In Martin Luther’s famous work “On the Freedom of a Christian,” published in 1520, Luther set forth the idea that a Christian was not obligated to obey any law, being justified by Grace. What is not often recalled is that Luther also put forth the idea that the true Christian, though free through the Atonement of Christ, was absolutely and unavoidably destined to be the “servant of all.”

Though Luther’s words are interesting and inspiring, they do not represent scripture, revealed by God to His prophets. Certainly, as Luther points out, none of our “works” will save us. They simply do not have that power. Christ alone can save us. But the true Christian knows that does not excuse us from doing the will of the Lord. Rather, it frees us from the bonds of sin, which impede our ability to do any good thing, and through the grace of Jesus Christ, enables us to act.

And so with Grace, not in opposition to it, we move forward, knowing that our sins cannot stop us, if we are with Christ. We move forward with confidence, knowing that we might understand and do the will of the Lord in our own lives, by following His teachings as found in the scriptures, as revealed to His servants, and as revealed to us personally.

Progression is Not Perfection

As I have struggled and strived to understand and do the will of the Lord in my own life, I have learned that progress, not perfection, is the key. Sometimes I think that we humans believe that we have to be perfect before we can say we are doing enough. You see it in every aspect of our living. Knowing we are children of God, and heirs of God and join heirs of Christ, as we read in Romans 8, we tend toward perfection. I think those desires are good. Yet I believe that even a lifetime of perfect effort by any of us won’t produce perfection.

And that being the case, I believe that it is enough to do the will of the Lord, as he has taught us. It’s a hard lesson for me, but I think it’s important. Doing His will demonstrates my love for Him. It demonstrates my willingness to be obedient, and gives me opportunities to grow and to help lift others. In the end, His grace is sufficient for me, and my obedience is a demonstration of my gratitude.