During the Priesthood meeting at the last General Conference, President Thomas S. Monson addressed the congregation. His talk was titled, To Learn, To Do, To Be. President Monson spoke of the size of the large assembly of LDS priesthood holders, their admirable desire to learn their duty, and their capacity to share the LDS gospel with others. To encourage his listeners in doing good, President Monson quoted a passage from the biblical book of Ezekiel and then followed up with a question:
“’A new heart…will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you…
“’And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.
“’And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God’ [Ezekiel 36:26–28].
“How might we merit this promise? What will qualify us to receive this blessing? “
President Monson followed his question with an answer: “learn what we should learn…do what we should do…be what we should be.”
It’s really interesting that President Monson chose the scripture he did in order to support his teaching regarding personal worthiness and merit. The text he quoted, the revelation God gave through the prophet Ezekiel, pretty much teaches the opposite of what LDS Prophet and President Thomas Monson went on to instruct his audience.
If we look at the context of Ezekiel 36 we find that it follows on the pronouncement of God’s judgment against Israel’s false shepherds (chapter 34) and against Edom, the prototype of Israel’s enemies (chapter 35). In chapter 36 God promises Israel that He will restore His people to a place of profound blessing. In chapter 37 God illustrates and confirms the future fulfillment of His promise. What stands out in stark contrast to the way LDS President Monson used Ezekiel 36:26-28 is the fact that God makes it very clear in His Word that His promise to bless His people is dependent wholly on Himself, and not at all on what the people learn, do or be.
The house of Israel did not “merit” God’s blessings. In Ezekiel 36:16-19 God catalogs their sins:
“The word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, when the house of Israel lived in their own land, they defiled it by their ways and their deeds. Their ways before me were like the uncleanness of a woman in her menstrual impurity. So I poured out my wrath upon them for the blood that they had shed in the land, for the idols with which they had defiled it. I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed through the countries. In accordance with their ways and their deeds I judged them. But when they came to the nations, wherever they came, they profaned my holy name…'”
Like us, these people did not “qualify” to receive anything good from God’s hand. But God told them,
“It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came.” (Ezekiel 36:22)
In the following words of God’s revelation through Ezekiel we see just what God proposed:
“And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations. It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord God; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel.” (Ezekiel 36:23-32, emphasis mine)
Twelve times in these ten verses God says He will act to bless His people. He promises blessings beyond measure. He will deliver them. He will cleanse them. He will give them the gift of a new heart and a new spirit, and He will “cause” them to care about His rules, and to obey. What have the people done to “merit” these things? Absolutely nothing. But they do respond. They remember their sin and mourn their evil ways; they are deeply ashamed.
Amazingly, Thomas Monson took the clear and powerful Word of God — a revelation wherein God declared His divine initiative in blessing His people — and misapplied it to teach his followers that God’s blessings are bestowed according to human attainment. What a shame.