Circa my college career, I spent three years teaching early morning seminary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Those not of my faith would assume that meant I was training clergymen, but Mormon seminaries are inflicted upon all kids of high school age. I think one of the reasons I felt compelled to be a seminary teacher was that, in high school, I was such a lousy seminary student. Class is held at 6:30 in the morning, an hour when I’m generally more interested in having dreams and visions than studying them. On the rare occasions I did show up, the teacher would always make me say the closing prayer, because there was no guarantee I would come that way again. In fact, when my old seminary teacher found out that I had followed in his footsteps, word is that he laughed for a good five minutes solid.
But I loved it. I taught in the building right behind the Los Angeles Temple, which got difficult to travel to from South Central LA after the ’94 Northridge Quake destroyed parts of the 10 freeway. But somehow I made it work, and it provided a measure of discipline to my life that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
But it was not without its controversies.
The year I was teaching the Old Testament, some parents had gotten wind of my heretical position on the story of Adam and Eve. Keep in mind that Mormons, to begin with, are already heretics on this story when compared to the rest of the Judeo-Christian world. Unlike many believers, we maintain that the Fall was a good thing and part of God’s grand design, not a tragedy to be mourned. I believed that, too. Still do, in fact.
Where I had trouble was with the idea of conflicting commandments.
According to LDS theology, Adam and Eve were given two charges from the Lord that couldn’t both be fulfilled. The first was that they ought to “multiply and replenish the earth,” i.e. churn out some little Adam-and-Evelets. The second was to stay away from the Tree of Knowledge. Conventional Mormon wisdom is that without eating some of the fruit of the knowledge tree, they wouldn’t have been able to breed appropriately, so, faced with a choice between two of God’s commands, they chose to fall in order to fulfill the higher law.
In my mind, this is problematic on two levels.
The first is my discomfort with the idea of God commanding someone to do something that couldn’t be done. Young children grow up in our church singing about the verse from the Book of Mormon, specifically 1 Nephi 3:7, where the prophet states that he will “go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.”
Except with Adam and Eve, though, right? If the Lord commanded them to do two things, and it turns out they could only do one, that makes Nephi less than reliable.
The second problem is the issue of divine enforcement. If Adam and Eve had avoided the forbidden fruit, as they had been commanded to do, at what point would the Lord have shown up and complain about the lack of young’uns?
“I said multiply and replenish the earth! Why haven’t you done what I said?”
“We’re trying, Lord! Nothing seems to work!”
You can see where this might get a little messy.
All that is preface, however, to my current position, which is that this conflicting commandment conundrum no longer troubles me in the slightest. How can that be, you may ask.
The answer is found in the temple.
Members of my church, including me, are quite circumspect about how we discuss our temple ordinances, but I don’t think I’m violating any confidences when I say that the ceremony focuses largely on the creation story, and participants are asked to liken themselves to Adam and Eve. It took me years to understand this, but the fact is that the similarity between their circumstances and ours is greater than I initially realized.
Each of us who enters mortality is faced with the same kind of choice Adam and Eve faced.
We teach that everyone on earth lived with our Father in Heaven, and we were there when he “laid the foundations of the earth” and “the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” (Job 38: 4, 7) We were the ones doing the shouting, because we would have an opportunity to move forward in our quest to become more like our Father and His Only Begotten Son.
To make that happen, however, we choose to come to a world where we leave the presence of God to become subject to pain, sickness, sin, and death. That choice is identical to the choice of our collective first parents.
God, then, forbids us to sin because that’s what He has to do. If he looked upon sin with the least degree of allowance, He would cease to be God. Therefore he cannot compel us to choose to wade through evil and learn the lessons that only come from exposure to a fallible world. But we chose to come and sin anyway, because only through sorrow can we know joy.
The Book of Mormon makes this point with transcendent clarity.
For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so… righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.
Wherefore, it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation. Wherefore, this thing must needs destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God.
– 2 Nephi 2:27-28
Our Father knew this, prepared for it, and provided a Savior for us in order for us to make our way back.
Like Adam and Eve before us, we chose this, with full knowledge that it would require us to suffer. We even shouted for joy when we were presented with the opportunity. We need that perspective when life gets difficult, which it invariably does.
Elder Neil A. Maxwell put it best:
While most of our suffering is self-inflicted, some is caused by or permitted by God. This sobering reality calls for deep submissiveness, especially when God does not remove the cup from us. In such circumstances, when reminded about the premortal shouting for joy as this life’s plan was unfolded, we can perhaps be pardoned if, in some moments, we wonder what all the shouting was about.
I have nothing to add to that, except that I really miss teaching seminary. And Neil A. Maxwell. But not the 10 freeway.