The underlying issue in verse 4 that relates, I believe, directly to the attitude articulated in verses 8-10 is “turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness”. Lasciviousness means “inclined to lustfulness; wanton; lewd” – but I am going to take a slight liberty with the core definition, based on what follows in verses 8-10. I am not going to focus on the sexual implications of this verse and the overall passage, and I ask that the comments also refrain from that potential discussion, and instead focus on the non-sexual corollary identified in verses 8-10 – since those verses begin with the term “likewise” (“in like manner; in the same way; similarly”). This introduction links what follows back to the same root cause discussed previously – lasciviousness, but what follows adds an intriguing twist.
I see “turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness” as having two possible meanings. First, it can apply to those who use the concept of God’s grace to deny the need for commandments and external rules – who say what they do doesn’t matter, since grace makes their lasciviousness acceptable, meaning they are free to do whatever they want to do. On the other hand, there are those who become arrogant in their own righteousness – who believe that they are “entitled” to grace because they deserve it, meaning they also are free to do whatever they want to do. It is that belief that they understand completely and are not constrained by any collective or communal rules, I believe, that is addressed in verses 8-10.
Verses 8-10 take the initial definition of being “lustful” and focus it on how people interact with “dignities” and in discussions where “they know not”. When viewed in light of Matthew 7:1
(“Judge not, that ye be not judged.”) and the overall message of Matthew 5 (summarized in verse 48, footnote b
), I believe a reasonable addition to the second condition would be “which they know not fully
” – and I think that addition is important in our own conversations. Regardless, the juxtaposition of the word “lasciviousness” with “evil speak(ing)” is fascinating- and I want to explore it a bit. The exact words are:
8 Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities.
9 Yet aMichael the barchangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of cMoses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.
10 But these speak evil of those things which they know not: but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves.
Returning to the definition of “lasciviousness” as “lustfulness”, the definition of “lust” I found that best fits this context is “a passionate or overmastering desire or craving”. This means that Jude was speaking of people who give in to a passion or an overwhelming desire when they speak of dignities and things which they know not (fully) – but the context makes it clear that what Jude condemns is the “evil” application of this inclination. Iow, while a passionate or overwhelming desire is laudable if it is charitable in nature (meaning non-judgmental), the opposite is true when it is condemnatory or attacking in nature. In that case, the desire is labeled lascivious (“lustful”) and, therefore, “evil”.
How does that apply to our communications here and elsewhere?
I think verse 9 is one of the most interesting verses in our entire Standard Works. Even if taken allegorically, if there ever was a figure below God who we think “should” be able to rail against Lucifer, it would be Michael, the archangel. I mean, come on, this is Michael, the archangel! However, verse 9 says Michael didn’t DARE do so – leaving God to do the rebuking. I read this as saying that, even in a situation where it seems obvious that “speaking evil” of someone might be warranted, Michael refrained and left that up to God.
I have read a lot of rebuking and reviling in the Bloggernacle – not nearly as much as on general comment threads outside the Bloggernacle, but a lot nonetheless. This occurs in our communications with each other, but it occurs even more often when “dignities” (“persons of high rank or title” and/or “ceremonial symbols and observances”) are being discussed. Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Bruce R. McConkie, Bill Clinton, George Bush, Barack Obama, temple ordinances, gay marriage, prophets, etc. all bring out vitriol and ire faster than just about anything around here.
My point is not the stereotypical one that many might be assuming right now. This post is not focused exclusively, or even primarily, on anti-Mormon diatribes.
Those often fit the general tone of the verses I’ve quoted in Jude, but so do many of the responses to those comments and even others that stand on their own. Often, “faithful” comments also speak evil of things that are “dignities” and “observances” of non- or ex-Mormons – even though those observances are not fundamentally ceremonial in nature.
Also, in a very real sense, we all are God’s children, and I believe “speaking evil” of each other can be compared to speaking evil of dignities without stretching the definition far enough to make a difference. (“Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.” – James 3:9
For example, any comment that equates someone’s struggle to understand or accept a concept with “unrighteousness” has the potential to be “lascivious” – if it assumes things unknown (“which they know not”) and is mocking of someone’s deeply held beliefs (“dignities”) – every bit as much as a blatant condemnation of Joseph Smith or Brigham Young is when making a blanket statement that does not take into account the full complexity of those men. The following key is subtle, but incredibly important, imo.
This type of lasciviousness carries a connotation of domination – of needing to be right – of needing to win – of caring more about winning than about understanding and being gracious. Lustfulness is an attitude, not merely an action – and such arrogance cuts across religious and political lines. It is something all of us need to understand and avoid, and it is enticing and natural and easy to miss as it creeps “unawares” into our interactions with each other – on a blog that is supposed to be about respectful disagreement, not lustful competition.
My question, then, is:
How do we communicate openly and honestly without resorting to lasciviousness and the tendency to evil speak – especially of dignities and things which we know not (fully)?