Sometimes, I have to say to my creedal Christian friends, in all sincerity:
We really do worship a different Jesus than you do.
I mention sometimes to my family and friends my frustration over certain song lyrics and how they influence how we view Jesus, his mortality and His perfection. I realize it bothers my wife that I obsess over two particular phrases, from two particular songs, but they represent to me much of what is wrong (even “abominable”) about the perceptions and teachings that have come down to us through the ages. These phrases are:
“Little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes,” (Away in a Manger) and “He never got vexed when the game went wrong, and he always told the truth.” (Jesus Once Was a Little Child)
Then I realize that the second song is a uniquely Mormon song, and I recognize that the fruits of the Great Apostasy still have not been rooted out of our minds completely.
I use the song lyrics simply to illustrate the tendency for people to deny, in practical terms, His humanity – His mortal half. Really, who even can imagine a normal baby who never cries? I’ve had six children go through (or currently be in) every stage that is normal to children, and that image is totally foreign to me. Just as importantly, I also use the lyrics to highlight the way that “perfection” is interpreted now in our society (and too often in church, as well) as opposed to in the scriptures themselves.
Just to consider in light of the image of a crying baby and a vexed child: There is a difference between “sin” and “transgression”. One is a willful choice; one is a mistake made in ignorance or without real choice. The latter “transgression” is MUCH broader than most people realize, and it is captured wonderfully in our 2nd Article of Faith. I want to focus this post on how we view the word “transgression” – and the implications of that view on our eternal progression, particularly in this earthly life.
As an example of something that is quite serious but done in ignorance, think of a child born in a home where terrorism is taught as a way of life. Great rewards are promised for suicide death in the name of God. (If you can call life with many virgins a reward, but that is for another post.) If that young boy grows up and carries out a suicide bombing that kills people, is his action a “sin” or a “transgression”? How can we really know for sure – seeing only the result and not what caused it? If he were mentally disabled, we would understand and allow for an exception. How can we be sure exactly what constitutes “mental disability” in God’s eyes – exactly what one person understands or does not understand?
Another example – a very emotional one: We are commanded to abstain from sex with anyone who is not our spouse. In the case of rape, there is a sin (the one who rapes) AND there is a transgression (the one who is raped). The victim does not sin, even though the commandment truly is broken – since sex outside of marriage has occurred. The Atonement covers that “technical violation”, since it was not done intentionally or willfully. Therefore, the victim remains “clean” in the eyes of God – as if no law had been broken.
Now, turn to the example of Jesus. We know he was subject to the Fall because of his mother’s fallen status. This means that He inherited from her the ability to “sin”, but it also means He inherited from her the same type of weaknesses and inclinations and tendencies to “transgress” as we do from our mortal parents. ***This means that he had to go through the process of overcoming His “natural man” exactly like we do.*** The only difference is the lack of actual sin.
Have you ever considered that Jesus was acting in His role as Redeemer (Payor of a debt) and Savior (Rescuer from the Fall) for everyone else, but also as Savior for Himself? Lest I be called a heretic, remember, I also believe He never “sinned” by acting in opposition to what He understood and knew. I’m just saying that we are not held accountable for our transgressions; as the 2nd Article of Faith says, the Atonement paid for them. Therefore, I believe, the Atonement also paid for His transgressions, as well – those “innocent” mistakes He made as a child and as He was learning and growing from grace to grace. His crying as a baby didn’t need to be included, since crying is not a transgression, but his actions or words while vexed during a game or his childish untruths (if he told them) would not be imputed as “sin” if he didn’t know better at the time. He probably was a more naturally obedient child than most (although some of the smartest, most gifted children are the biggest handful), but I think it’s instructive that, like other prophets, He was not accepted “in His own country” – by those who watched Him grow up as just a normal child in their eyes. It’s difficlut to believe that would have been the case if he had been the “perfect little angel” of our songs.
I believe when He condescended to come to earth, He agreed to do so in a way that put Him in subjection to the Fall – so He could experience EVERY aspect of mortality that we do. I believe that in doing so there had to be a way provided for *all* of us to be freed from the effects of the Fall – including He who condescended to become as one of us – in every way other than succumbing to actual sin.
In the end, I return to how “perfection” was applied under the Law of Moses (and in Lucifer’s plan) – never making a mistake and following everything with exactness, generally at threat of punishment. I then look at Matthew 5:48 and see that Jesus defined it as “complete, finished, fully developed” – covering lots of mistakes by allowing for repentance and focusing on spiritual growth toward an eventual completion of character. I read of his final statement on the cross in that context (“It is finished.”) and see in it his acknowledgment that his own exaltation had been worked out – that he was complete – that he could say, legitiamtely, to the Nephites when he appeared to them, “even as I, or your father who is in heaven in perfect.” If we understand this difference in the scriptural meaning of perfection, I believe it can change and empower the way we look at Jesus – and our children and our friends and our fellow saints and our leaders – and ourselves, making us much more able to “have joy” in this life and in the life to come.
Just as I believe we can allow him to cry as a baby and become vexed as a child and still maintain our acceptance of him as a God, I believe we can allow ourselves to be human without being overwhelmed by guilt as a result.
Are there any other lyrics that bother you when it comes to describing Jesus – at any point in his life? I am interested particularly in those that deny his humanity, but would like to hear of others – and why they bother you. Are there other ways that you believe doctrine has evolved over the years and added unnecessary guilt to our simple existence as mortals in a fallen world? Am I off my rocker when discussing Jesus’ Atonement applying to himself, as well?