Wednesday, February 21, 2018

How do we value ourselves?

To start this post, I am going to use an example from The Good Place that includes a major spoiler from the first season.  If you have not watched it yet, go watch it now (the whole first season is only like 4 1/2 hours and is on Netflix) and return to the post!

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The Good Place is a show that follows four people after they die.  They all go to the show's equivalent of Hell (the bad place), but instead of being physically tortured they are emotionally tortured by being told they are actually in Heaven (the good place) and then put in emotionally tearing situations.

One particular example stood out to me.  Tahani in her life always played second-fiddle to her sister.  Although Tahani raised millions for charity and had a slew of famous friends, she was always second best.  This led to Tahani being emotionally tortured by her finding out she was the second-worst person who made it into the good place (couldn't even be the best at being the worst!).  As she strives to raise in the ranks, she stays up all night planning events and fun for everyone else.  After presenting this to everyone one of the demons offered a sharp point of anguish by simply saying, "Tahani, you are truly the best."

Just think about that.  The demon is torturing Tahani by saying she is the best, by paying a high compliment!  And why did this hurt so much?  Because Tahani's opinion of a point system did not value her as the best.  She valued the opinion of this system more than the opinion of who offered the compliment, and so the compliment only reminded Tahani of the system's disdain.

Imagine though if Tahani truly valued the opinion of the one who gave the compliment.  After feeling down about herself, and working hard to recover, she would have had affirmation of the thing she wanted.  She would have been uplifted and supported by those encouraging words.  She chose whose opinion she cared about, and that choice is what caused the pain.  The demons only monopolized on the opportunity.

Why is this important?  In life, one of the greatest causes of pain comes when we don't live up to our own self image.  This is so much true that the subconscious fights hard to somehow eliminate this pain, and often does it in dangerous ways.  It often will learn to justify away why you didn't live up to your own expectations, distance you from your own emotions, push blame to others, or try to "cleanse" itself by punishment.  This pain can be so great to drive to self harm as the pain of self harm is less than the emotional pain of not living up to that self image.

But our self image is often wrong!  We are not perfect people, and cannot live up to all we want to be.  "If we say we have not sin, we deceive ourselves" (1 John 1:8).  I know I have seen this deeply in my own life. 

The gospel provides the most amazing of answers to this.  In Moses 1, after Moses sees all of the universe he said to himself, "I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed" (Moses 1:10).  This was not a statement trying to beat himself up, but a simple realization of man's smallness next to the greatness of God.  The realization was more than simply poignant.  Satan then comes to tempt him to worship him, and after Moses refused Satan threw one of the largest tempest tantrums recorded in scripture.  Satan's rants were so powerful to cause Moses to fear and to see the bitterness of Hell.  He was able to escape though because he did not trust in his own strength, but called on God.

Is it mere coincidence that after Moses learned man was nothing he knew that the power to counter the bitterness of Hell was not inside him, but to call on God?  The account then says that after calling on God Moses received strength.  He became stronger than what he even thought possible.  Moses's self image of mankind was that it was nothing, but calling on God he was able to stand with the gates of Hell open against him and Satan was cast out.

Then, as God returns, He shares with Moses the true value of mankind by saying, "For behold, this is my work and my glory - to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man."

A simple truth is the value of any given thing is simply what we are willing to give for it.  If people didn't like diamonds, they would not hold value.  You may counter that by saying they would still hold value for use in scientific purposes.  That is simply saying though that we value science to the point we are willing to spend time and money to mine out a rock.  Value is merely a reflection of what we care for.

If God's work and glory is the immortality and eternal life of man, then to Him what is our value?  When He gave the His beloved and only-begotten Son for each on every one of us He showed He valued us so much He was willing to give everything.  He, the God of all, was willing to give all for us.

Now, bringing this full circle, we may value our own self image according to some type of point system of good and bad deeds.  We may feel the weight of our actions upon us like the weight of the world.  But Moses knew that mankind in and of itself is nothing.  But if we value ourselves according to how God values us, it does not matter what right/wrong point system we make up, His opinion will in the end win.  Just as Tahani could have taken the demon;s compliment to her, telling her that she truly is the best, as words of encouragement, we can all have strength in the one constant: God's love for us.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Guilt Unto Repentance

A scripture that has always stood out to me is Alma 42:29 where Alma the younger is talking with his "problem" child Corianton and is trying to help him understand the wrongs of his ways.  Corianton though has some large theological questions and Alma spends a lot of his time talking through the doctrine Corianton does not understand.  At the end of it all he says:

And now, my son, I desire that ye should let these things trouble you no more, and only let your sins trouble you, with that trouble which shall bring you down unto repentance.
This has always stood out to me because of how different his advice is then our society has it.  Our society tends towards two directions, one trying to make the person feel absolutely awful for their actions so much that the pain forces them almost without agency to never to do that thing again.  The other is to be so gentle as to try to take away all guilt.  Here Alma is explicit though, to only let sins trouble with that trouble which shall bring repentance.

I have been doing a lot of research lately (which is going to come up in future posts I promise) about how people respond to guilt.  The most bizarre thing I have found is that many resolutions to guilt actually cause larger problems than the original source of the guilt.  The body's response to guilt is to want to feel better, and the physical response may not care how.  We can justify away our actions, selectively forget the bad, use unfair comparisons to show that we are at least better than someone else, or so many other things.  However, this leads us to establish unhealthy patterns.  If we justify once, we probably will justify again.

Staying in guilt also tears down our will power.  Study has shown time and time again that we only have so much moral stamina, and as it deplinishes we are much more likely to engage in unethical behavior.  This is true independent of the moral Goliath you may be (except for Christ feeling our pain and guilt in Gethsemane).  So like a small stone took down Goliath because it led to David being able to taking Goliath's own sword and finishing him, a small amount of guilt may leave us defenseless to much larger issues.

There is so much more to say on this topic, and it will come, but I will leave this here for now.  I hope we all remember to only feel guilt unto repentance and to let the Savior's loving embrace into our lives.  Independent of your wrong or whatever questions on doctrine you may have like Corianton did, let it only trouble you in order to become a better person.