For none of these iniquities come of the Lord; for he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile. (2 Nephi 26:33)
Many, many years ago, on a visit to Utah, I attended church with an acquaintance of mine. This man was a professor at BYU and had a PhD from Harvard, of which he was quite proud. After the high priest group meeting was over, he turned to me and said, “You know, during the lesson I was looking around the room with interest. On the one hand, here were men with advanced degrees and significant accomplishments: scholars, professors, successful businessmen. On the other hand, you have men who are third- and fourth-generation farmers. I marvel that the same Gospel can encompass us all.” My response was simply, “Well, maybe from where the Lord sits, there isn’t any real difference.”
My acquaintance was not amused. As I said, he was quite proud of his Ivy League degree and did not care to be lumped in with farmers.
I have reflected on that exchange many times in the quarter-century since it happened. I think we all succumb to my acquaintance’s temptation from time to time and in different ways. The condescension of men is something quite different from the condescension of God; ours is made in self-justification, self-praise and self-satisfaction. Whether it is our intellect, our education, our orthodoxy (or heterodoxy), our skepticism (or our faithfulness), or even our sacrifice and suffering, we find reasons why we’re somehow better, wiser, more thoughtful or more authentic than those around us (or, at least, those of whom we don’t approve). And we are all of us wrong. From where God sits, there is no real difference between us; the gap between His attributes and ours, between His perfection and our sinfulness, is so vast so as to render our differences insignificant in the face of our need to simply repent and rely utterly upon Him.
And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:
Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. (Luke 18:9-14)
I believe we are not only guilty of chauvinism regarding our personal characteristics, our accomplishments, or our self-selected social/intellectual group, we are guilty of temporal and cultural chauvinism as well. We often assume, consciously or not, that God is more, well, nuanced with us in these ‘latter days’ than with, say, the Israelites in 7th century BC Judah because we are more sophisticated and educated. In fact, we often limit what we believe God could have told such people simply because of the historical setting; for example, God could not have really told Nephi details about the birth and life of Jesus Christ and so it must be a late addition to the Book of Mormon. (Unspoken but lurking beneath such assertions is the assumption, “Well, God hasn’t told me anything in such detail, so how could He have done so with Nephi or anyone else for that matter?”) Again, from where God sits, there is no measurable difference in our cultures, philosophies, and levels of education — the fact that we have iPhones, the internet, The Ensign and Dialogue, and that the Israelites did not, is meaningless in the context of the infinite gap between us and God.
Mormons – People who believe: … 3. That the only difference between them and God is a few years of training.
— Orson Scott Card, Saintspeak (1984).
God knows personally and watches over all His children on the “worlds without number” that He has created and continues to create; He perceives this entire universe in real time. We, on the other hand, struggle to balance our checkbooks and remember our own kids’ names or what we were doing 3 months ago. And yet we presume to judge and criticize one another, and to justify ourselves, over what are in an eternal and Godly perspective trivial differences. We are like toddlers arguing over who has more or larger freckles while a global war rages around us and threatens us all.
This day, Easter, we celebrate the true condescension of God, that infinite and eternal atonement that bridges that infinite gap, resurrects us from the dead, and brings us back into the presence of God. It is a gift beyond all comprehension and deserving, and our reaction to it should be less like the Pharisee and more like the publican. We are all sinners and unprofitable servants — we are all truly “alike unto God” — and yet Christ atoned for us anyway. Today, of all days, we should remember and ponder upon that. ..bruce..