Freedom or Compassion?

Recently I was talking with a friend who is a faithful saint. He expressed his frustration that we sometimes conflate our religion and our politics. We sometimes act as if a faithful member of the Church could have only one political stance: “Freedom comes first.” The people who start their history with the war in heaven sometimes talk as if the only principle worth fighting for is agency.

I agree with that friend. I suppose that agency got us here. But using that agency to show love and compassion is what will get us back with Father. While we start our story with agency, we conclude it with the United Order. Should we imagine that every cousin of socialism is evil? Should we talk as if government must always be minimized? Must the great principles of freedom and compassion be at war with each other?

I grew up in a home that was very conservative politically. I have been very conservative most of my life. But the repeated demand of scripture to care for God’s underprivileged children makes me more open to many ways of helping—including some governmental interventions.

I am not defending big government. I am not suggesting it is the immediate solution to our woes. Each of us must find ways to care for the poor. But I invite humility and patience as each of us tries to find a way.

Maybe we could all try to welcome any efforts to care for God’s underprivileged children. Maybe it is not Uncle Sam who is the enemy but rather Satan. He would have us harden our hearts against the poor. “They brought it on themselves.”

Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—

But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.
For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind? (Mosiah 4:17-19)

I don’t think God wants us to choose between freedom and compassion. I think He wants us to use our best inspiration to choose both.

How can we do that? I welcome your ideas.


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Welcoming Heaven into Today

If God is the smartest person in the universe, then His doctrines should be unexpectedly expansive. If God is the kindest person in eternity, then His plan should be refreshingly redemptive. Indeed, He stands as the smartest and kindest Person in this entire expanse of time and space.

“The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth” (Exodus 34:6).

We may test any doctrine for its truthfulness by looking for His telltale fingerprints. When a doctrine seems squalid and limiting, we have good reason to believe that it owes its design to puny mortals. When a doctrine startles us with its wisdom and goodness, we have reason to suspect that God is behind it.

His relentless redemptiveness

Thus we are equipped to test any doctrine. Joseph Smith observed that “our Heavenly Father is more liberal in his views, and boundless in his mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive; and, at the same time, is more terrible to the workers of iniquity, more awful in the executions of his punishments, and more ready to detect every false way, than we are apt to suppose him to be” (TPJS p. 257).
God honors both justice and mercy. His great plan of happiness ingeniously provides us personal experience with both good and evil while offering us redemption through His Beloved Son.

“And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice; therefore only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption” (Alma 34:16).

If we respond to His invitations, we will find blessings beyond our wildest dreams. After all, even “the glory of the telestial . . . surpasses all understanding” (D&C 76:89). One of the surest testimonies of God’s goodness is the fact that He will take those who were “liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers” (D&C 76:103) and straighten them out in the spirit world before delivering them to a glory that we cannot comprehend in our wildest dreams—a place where the Holy Ghost has full sway.

“But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Cor. 2:9).

One of the doctrines that amazes me every time I experience it is His determination to rescue us. According to Elder Maxwell, “his relentless redemptiveness exceeds [our] recurring wrongs” (“Jesus of Nazareth, Savior and King,” Ensign, May 1976, pp. 26–27).
Although we live in a world where sin is an ever-present danger, consider one set of ways in which God has set us up for success.

We are set up for success

Father has sent His left-hand man, the third in command, a member of the Godhead as our personal mentor. He will be with us every moment of every day to guide and sustain us as long as we are within the covenant. Can you imagine that we have the full attention and help of a God? Can we comprehend the condescension of God to dedicate such heavenly resources to guide every moment of our journey?
Parley P. Pratt detailed the work of the Holy Ghost:

The gift of the Holy Spirit . . . quickens all the intellectual faculties, increases, enlarges, expands and purifies all the natural passions and affections; and adapts them, by the gift of wisdom, to their lawful use. It inspires, develops, cultivates and matures all the fine-toned sympathies, joys, tastes, kindred feelings and affections of our nature. It inspires virtue, kindness, goodness, tenderness, gentleness and charity. It develops beauty of person, form and features. It tends to health, vigor, animation and social feeling. It develops and invigorates all the faculties of the physical and intellectual man. It strengthens, invigorates, and gives tone to the nerves. In short, it is, as it were, marrow to the bone, joy to the heart, light to the eyes, music to the ears, and life to the whole being (Key to the Science of Theology, pp.100–101).

A heavenly helper

God also provides His holy helper as a reminder that we are in relationship with Him. We do not have to wonder if we are outside the holy contract that binds us to Him. “If we experience the gifts of the Spirit or the influence of the Holy Ghost, we can know that we are in the covenant relationship, for the gifts and companionship of the Holy Ghost are given to none else” (Robinson, Believing Christ, p. 94). What sweet comfort! Every time any one of us feels a hint of the Holy Ghost, God is reassuring us that our offering is acceptable. If I do not flee the covenant, He will get me home. What sweet assurance! What welcome encouragement! It is no wonder that the Holy Ghost is called the Comforter.
But the Holy Ghost does more than mentor, teach, and reassure us. He also cleanses us. What a blessing! When we set him loose in our souls, He will gather up and haul off the pests that bedevil our mortality. Then He takes the next step in our spiritual reformation. He will deliver that perfection that Christ gladly lends us when we are in the covenant. As long as we are in the covenant, the Holy Ghost reassures us that we are perfect in Christ. (See Believing Christ for a superb discussion of this principle.) Heaven be praised!
It is not surprising that a member of the Godhead would have so many positive effects any time He visits. What a blessing that God would assign him to keep us constant company.
Imagine a dear friend who, whenever he comes to visit, helps you sort out your house. He does not condemn or cajole you. He washes a few dishes. He bakes a few cookies. He sorts the laundry. He never visits without leaving the place better for His visiting. He leaves us feeling hopeful and peaceful.
Thus it is with the Holy Ghost. Whenever He visits us, He burns out a few imperfections, sets our thinking in order, and refines our feelings. On His best days—those when we give him free reign—he fills us with the greatest of heavenly gifts: charity.
The good news

Satan has every reason to be discouraged every time we glimpse the redemptive goodness of the First Presidency of heaven. God’s loving goodness, manifest most clearly in His Great Plan of Happiness, energizes our journey. Surely every knee should bow and every tongue confess in the face of such divine graciousness.
Never was there sweeter doctrine than that which teaches that God has set us up for success. He wants us back home with him and He has provided the way to get us there.
God took errant (and humbled) Peter, filled him with the Holy Ghost, and made him president of the ancient church. God surprised enemy Paul, sent him to a local official for tutoring, and made him the church’s doctrinal spokesman. God snatched Alma and the sons of Mosiah from their destructive ways and made them messengers of joy.
He is doing something similar for each of us. In ways that we may not understand (or even perceive), He is taking us from our puny pursuits and turning us into and toward something nobler.
I gladly acknowledge my weak, imperfect understanding of His doctrine. Yet I feel sure that the truth is still finer, sweeter, and more inviting than I ever imagined. The participation of the Holy Ghost in our lives is so unexpectedly expansive and refreshingly redemptive that it must be true. May we welcome that messenger from heaven into our lives every day.