I read an article by Kelly M. Kapic titled, “simul iustus et peccator” (“at once justified and sinner”) which, among other things, addressed the sorry condition of the human heart. Dr. Kapic wrote,
“Something is wrong not simply ‘out there’ but within us. Jeremiah probed the human heart and soberly declared, ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?’ (Jer 17:9). Similarly, the apostle James did not blame God for our temptations or sin…(James 1:14).”
Continuing to discuss the problem of the ongoing struggle with sin experienced even in the lives of those who are dedicated to Christ, Dr. Kapic wrote,
“Our problem is not just that we sin every now and then; our problem is that we are soaked in sin, are born into it, and are never completely free from its presence this side of glory. Augustine made this point by stringing together just a sampling of biblical texts…[Ps. 51:5; see Job 14:4; Prov. 20:9; Rom. 5:12; James 3:2]
“The problem of sin is deep and personal. We have each done things we regret, things we feel bad about… But what can be even more disturbing is to begin to see the dark hand of sin shot through all of our internal world. In the quiet, in the dark, we begin to wonder about ourselves.
“Working with college students, I sometimes watch them see the depth of their own sin for the first time, and in many cases it frightens them. They would all confess they are sinners if asked, but in truth, most of them view themselves as basically good. Then something happens. They begin to learn the complexity of their own hearts… At some point it hits them — there is something terribly wrong, something bent about their hearts. They often become paralyzed as they begin to see that even their purest love grows out of mixed motives and darkened desires. It seems better to ignore this reality, to never see it. But is it?…
“Something is wrong, not just in this world, but within us. Sin has affected not just our wills but our minds, our emotions, even our bodies. But paradoxically, only when we see our slavery to sin can we celebrate our liberty in Christ.”
These are weighty ideas to contemplate. It’s no fun to probe into the dark corners of one’s heart. Yet in God’s wisdom He has so decreed that we must come face to face with our depravity and, in so doing, throw ourselves on His abundant mercy to receive pardon and eternal life.
Not two hours after reading Dr. Kapic’s article I was directed to a video for youth produced by the LDS Church titled “Our True Identity.” In this video LDS Apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf says that many of the problems we have in this life can be solved by understanding who we really are. After relating the story of The Ugly Duckling, Mr. Uchtdorf says,
“You are no ordinary beings. You are glorious and eternal. I plead with you—just look into the water and see your true reflection. It is my prayer and blessing that when you look at your reflection, you will be able to see beyond imperfections and self-doubts and recognize who you truly are: glorious sons and daughters of Almighty God.”
In the original fireside address from which this video was made, Mr. Uchtdorf included, “…you have seen your true reflection in the water and you have felt the eternal glory of that divine spirit within you.” He might also have included (but he didn’t) the LDS teachings that we are all “gods in embryo” and that “the Lord created [us] for the purpose of becoming Gods like Himself” (Achieving a Celestial Marriage Manual, 130; Spencer W. Kimball, Miracle of Forgiveness, 286; Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 3:93).
I understand that, in his fireside remarks, Mr. Uchtdorf was trying to help kids with their self-esteem. He was trying to help them find value in living at a stage of life that can be so tremendously difficult. I find no fault in that. But I was struck by the stark contrast between what I read from Dr. Kapic and what I heard from Mr. Uchtdorf.
Historic (biblical) Christianity focuses on the greatness of God and the deep need we sinful creatures have for a Savior. Mormonism focuses on the greatness of humankind and the potential of what we can achieve through our hard work. Both faiths call people to take an honest look at who we are, suggesting that this self-examination will draw us to lives of hope and happiness. But one says the reflection we see will be frightening, revealing a deceitful heart in each one of us, leading to a turning away from self-aggrandizement and a turning to submission to and reliance on God. The other says the reflection will be a grand thing to behold; if we will but close our eyes to imperfections, the reflection will reveal a developing swan (a God in embryo), leading to a new determination to be proven worthy of, and eventual attainment of, exaltation to Godhood.
Could the messages of these two faiths be any more disparate?
Dr. Kapic, espousing a biblical perspective, wrote,
“In the end, it is only when we humbly, and with unflinching honesty, come to recognize the true nature of sin that we can finally look, in awe and wonder, at the cross. ‘For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Rom. 6:23). Augustine concluded that our view of sin is not just a discussion about human nature, but ultimately it is a discussion about Jesus Christ and His death. …not only are we saved by grace, but we remain dependent on grace for our whole lives. On the one hand, yes, there is our sin. But on the other, we behold the great, loving, and all-sufficient work of Christ. And that changes everything.”