In sacrament meeting last week, one of the speakers in my ward quoted in passing some verses from D&C 130 which have often perplexed me:
There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—
And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.
I spent several minutes reflecting yet again on why I find this passage challenging. Then after church, I came home and read Amelia’s moving and thought-provoking post at FMH about the rhetoric of marriage, and being single in the Church. Some of the discussion there reminded me of this issue. What is the relationship between obedience and blessings? Marriage and children are blessings, we are frequently reminded; many maintain, in fact, that they are the greatest blessings one can have. But does this imply that those who have been blessed with these things have obeyed a law which those who are single and/or childless have neglected?
Another example. It is not uncommon to hear a connection made between living the gospel and greater happiness. You keep the commandments, and are blessed with peace, joy, etc., as a result. Conversely, we know from Alma that wickedness never was happiness. I have no doubt that many people have found this to be experientially true. In my own life, however, this particular connection has not always held up. This has actually come as a surprise to me, because I grew up firmly believing in this link. But after years of living with depression, when happiness first struck in my life, I was quite taken aback by how out of the blue it was, and how little it had to do with my living the commandments (or not). Ahh, some will say, but there is a difference between happiness and joy, or perhaps between pleasure and happiness. I am not so sure; I do think there are probably relevant distinctions to be made here, but when it comes to my actual life experience it is all rather jumbled and I cannot so easily parse things out.
In addition, I have a lot of blessings in my life, such as generally good health, educational opportunities, and supportive friends and family members. I am not at all convinced, however, that I have these things because I somewhere somehow obeyed the law upon which those particular blessings are predicated. Yet this scripture says that any blessing we obtain from God is a result of obedience. Should I conclude that these blessings are not from God (which would be odd, given the injunction to acknowledge his hand in all things)? Or that, despite all appearances to the contrary, I did in fact obey some law which brought them about? Or that they aren’t actually “blessings”?
This is why this scripture confuses me. It raises a lot of difficult questions. One possible solution, of course, is to extend its scope. It’s not really referring to mortality, one might argue; it’s referring to eternity. Here in this life there may be serious and often troubling disjuncts, but eternally you will have the blessings that you have merited through your obedience to the underlying laws which govern their bestowal.
I think there is probably something to that. And yet I am still uneasy with this paradigm. For one thing, it sounds so mechanistic: you insert obedience O, and are rewarded with blessing B. Also, in what sense is a blessing truly a blessing if it is merited, earned through obedience? Where is the grace in this picture? (Perhaps in the possibility that the blessings exceed what the obedience merited? Or perhaps it is only through grace that we are able to achieve the requisite obedience?)
I do believe that there have been times in my life when I have been blessed for my obedience to particular commandments. But there have also been times in my life in which God has graciously offered help despite my rebellion. And I’ve also struggled at times (as I think most people have) with feeling like I was doing my best, and yet promised blessings never appeared.
How do you understand the relationship between obedience and blessings?