Mortal minds and experience quickly latch onto the idea that sin and evil can be compared to old, black grease where even minimal contact leaves its mark.
As summarized by Maya Angelou:
Avoiding any contact with ‘filthy worldliness’ (at the risk of smudging our Final Judgement White-glove check) might include carefully placed barriers to prevent against hearing swear words, seeing anything immodest, or ever being exposed to anything less than perfectly celestial music.
And based on the presumption that we are the “sum total”, as Maya Angelou argues, of everything we’ve ever bumped into, it makes sense to wear a hazmat suit through life.
Yet, when we compare the ‘hazmat image’ with the painting of Christ below, we see a stark contrast.
In order to reconcile the teachings of
“if thy eye offend thee, pluck it out” (Matt 18:9)
“Which now of these three, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?” (Luke 10:36)
requires an understanding of a higher law that is nowhere more stunningly displayed than in the atonement of Christ.
Knowest Thou The Condescension of God?
If being exposed to sin and filth automatically equals personal contamination, then, without exception, the Savior of the world would be the most unclean man to ever walk this earth.
Performing the atonement not only required Christ to see and hear the very darkest and lowest moments in human history, but also required feeling and experiencing those moments in the shoes of those walking through.
On an unexplained level, Christ knows comprehensively and exactly what sin looks, sounds, and feels like. Christ’s atonement took him to the very bottom of the filthiest pits in eternity and yet, he emerged from the experience spotless, sinless, AND changed
Christ’s example teaches that experience and change CAN be gained while still remaining clean.
You can keep the spirit with you even when surrounded by evil.
It is your ‘WHY’ for being there, or the state of your heart, that determines whether evil influence culminates in sanctification or damnation.
This principle does not imply that we search out evil, that we are light-minded about the potential influence of darkness, or that we, “continue in sin that grace may abound.” (Romans 6:1)
Indeed, “God forbid.” (Romans 6:2)
Rather, we would be wise to realize that the goal of this life is to become like our Father in Heaven. As our all-knowing Father, He is fully aware of all the evil that surrounds and besets His children; His ability to perfectly love, lead, and minister requires such a perfect understanding.
God hears the prayers AND the curses that ascend to heaven. How grateful we imperfect mortals are that God doesn’t barricade himself away in a ‘white-glove worthy’ corner of heaven and ignore all of us who struggle!
If we wish to rise to the stature of our Eternal Father, we must someday develop a character capable of confronting the totality of evil while remaining clean and holy. That capability is based in application of higher law. It was our Savior’s motivation and purpose that sanctified even the darkest moments of his atonement.
(The article ‘Higher Laws’ is a discussion of the priorities and motivations that make godly perfection possible.)
Developing the character of Christ requires daily training, based in love for God and neighbor, of facing evil and rising above it.
Inspiration Led Grown
Walking in the footsteps of our Savior and developing a divine character means that we will found ourselves among sinners and the unclean. We have a divine mandate to lift, love, and serve those who need it most.
However, we are also responsible for our own soul.
It requires the direction of the Holy Spirit to know when to walk into the thick of battle to save a brother or sister, or when the Lord would have us demonstrate the courage to walk away. Just as there are times to walk out of a movie to avoid hearing language, there are times to befriend a lonely teenager with an attitude and a swearing problem to help him/her feel loved instead of judged.
Be Ye Clean
Our Savior meets each of us where we are at and lifts us higher the instant we have faith and desire. Developing a Christ-like character invites us to look beneath the rough-hew surface of those around us to see the “worth of a soul” underneath.
When we understand the true meaning of ‘love for God and neighbor’ and let that priority lead our steps, we will approach ever-nearer mortal perfection and divine glorification. We will find that, regardless of the evil that surrounds us, we can escape the stains of sin and lead many of our brothers and sisters closer to their eternal home.
is much more about the state of your heart than about your physical proximity.
Indeed we are commanded
“We are to live in the world but not be of the world. We must live in the world because, as Jesus taught in a parable, His kingdom is “like leaven,” whose function is to raise the whole mass by its influence. His followers cannot do that if they associate only with those who share their beliefs and practices.”
The apostles and prophets are our living example of what our Savior would be doing were He here. They exemplify our responsibility to engage, work, lift, and love all of our Father’s children regardless of perceived similarities or differences.
A Christ-like life is not about avoiding exposure to sin (1/3 of the hosts of heaven bought into such a dead-end solution). Rather, the example of our Savior teaches the importance of loosing ourselves in the service of others (developing the right heart).
When our heart is focused on love for God and neighbor, the smudges of sin don’t hold, evil becomes iteratively less impactful, and we find ourselves capable of following in the footsteps of Christ as we lift and serve our brothers and sisters.
It is when we have the right priorities that we achieve the purpose of mortal life.
We are here to develop the character of God through daily practice.
“The first great truth of all eternity is that God loves us (all of us) with all of His heart, might, mind, and strength. That love is the foundation stone of eternity…”
– Elder Holland CR 2016