Last week, I had an interesting yet troubling experience. I went with Shaw (not his real name) up to Wisconsin. We attended church there. The first speaker was a girl, probably in high school, who spoke about…something. I couldn’t pay attention. I couldn’t feel the Spirit, so I ignored her and tried to catch up on my Book of Mormon reading. But Shaw was paying attention.
At one point, I began paying attention as she was talking about her experiences in various Gospel Doctrines classes in her last ward. (As a Gospel Doctrine teacher, I pay attention, or try to, when people discuss their experiences, so I can improve my ways and understand what others have experienced and need.) She talked about this amazing Gospel Doctrine teacher who taught with the Spirit. Only for the ward to find out that he was living a double life: although married, he was having a long-time affair with another women. She made a statement along the lines of this: “I know we’re all unrighteous, but not that unrighteous.” This really bothered Shaw, and it’s bothered me a lot since then.
Those of us who try very hard to obey the Lord’s commandments, particularly to remain pure and chaste according to our station and situation, sometimes take pride in our righteousness, and end up puffing ourselves up with that pride, assuming ourselves as better than those who have fallen or who are engaging in unrighteous lifestyles.
This is a pernicious evil. I believe that this is a tool used by Satan to distract the faithful of God and to have them begin their journey onto a path that will lead them away from God, for the moment any of us is proud that we are “not that unrighteous,” pride has taken a hold of our hearts, our hearts are thereby filled with a uncharity, and we have begun to stray away from God. We become, in effect, no better than those who are reviled.
For my Latter-day Saint friends: how does this attitude make any different from the Zoramites (for more details, see Alma 31), who prayed with great pride about their being superior to their brethren? Does not such an attitude make us Zoramites indeed, and thus those who have strayed from the Lord’s way?
In “What God Hath Cleansed” in Faith Precedes the Miracle by President Spencer W. Kimball, President Kimball references a passage from scripture. Come, let us read the words of the Lord:
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.
For it is written: “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one [point], he is guilt of all” (James 2:10).
And so it doesn’t matter to what degree another has broken the law. He has broken the law. So have I. I have no grounds upon which to stand in pride before God. Without the sacrifice and grace of Jesus Christ, my faithfulness has no value whatsoever. We all need the Lord and His atoning sacrifice and grace, without which none of us, no matter how righteous, can enter into the presence of God our Heavenly Father. To puff ourselves up, that we are not as unrighteous as another, is to offend yet more against the laws of God. And if we do not repent, we put ourselves in spiritual peril.
We, all the faithful of God, should be full of love for all of God’s children, regardless of how they live. We are all broken, and so we should be thankful to God that He has revealed how, through His Son, we may return back into His presence. All, from the likes of Mother Teresa to the wanton fornicator, need the Lord and His grace and love. We should help others turn away from their sins and walk back to Heavenly Father by reaching out to them in love, and beholding them with love, and loving them with the love with which God loves His children. The Lord ministered to sinners, without excusing or accepting theirs sins, and thus we should do as well. Never, no, never, ought we at any point to feel any pride or satisfaction in that we are not as unrighteous as others, for our own faults condemn us enough, and thus we are no better than another.