Latter-day Saints strive to abide by a plethora of commandments. The Big 10, the Word of Wisdom, Law of Tithing, Law of Chastity, etc. Korihor made his opinion very clear about the commandments of his day in Alma 30:
And thus ye lead away this people after the foolish traditions of your fathers, and according to your own desires; and ye keep them down, even as it were in bondage, that ye may glut yourselves with the labors of their hands, that they durst not look up with boldness, and that they durst not enjoy their rights and privileges.
Yea, they durst not make use of that which is their own lest they should offend their priests, who do yoke them according to their desires, and have brought them to believe, by their traditions and their dreams and their whims and their visions and their pretended mysteries, that they should, if they did not do according to their words, offend some unknown being, who they say is God—a being who never has been seen or known, who never was nor ever will be.
Do these beliefs sound familiar? We hear them all the time nowadays. “There are too many commandments. The standard is too high. All these rules are just restricting my freedom! Church leaders are just trying to keep me in line in order to keep their power. These rules are just arbitrary control tactics.”
My wife recently shared a different perspective with me that provides an alternative view of what commandments are meant to be. I’ll do my best to explain it below:
I’ve never seen The Notebook, but I am very familiar with one scene that dominated the internet for a time because of how comically relatable it was. Have you ever been in a relationship where expectations were unclear? It could have been a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, employer/employee, parent/child, friend/friend, teacher/student, anything. Here’s what happened when expectations were unclear between these two (starting at 0:43):
Man: “What do you want?”
Man: “What do you want?”
Woman: “It’s not that simple!”
Man: “What do you WANT?!”
When expectations exist, but are unclear, relationships flounder and tension arises. And we all have expectations. We want mutual respect. Loyalty. Trust. Kindness. Support. Love. Have you ever had a friend who consistently disrespected you? Wasn’t loyal? Lost your trust? What happened to that friend? My guess is that they didn’t retain the title friend for much longer.
Expectations versus obligations
Hopefully reasonable expectations in any relationship (except maybe an employer/employee relationship) are not seen as obligations. Check out what Psychology Today writer Mark D. Wright (Ph.D.) said about it:
…partners may feel certain obligations to each other as part of their relationship, but they shouldn’t feel too much like obligations, in the sense that they feel separate from or on top on the relationship itself. If they do, that signals a problem in the relationship, because one or both partners may be taking an external view to the relationship, as if viewing it from outside of it and seeing its ‘limitations’ and ‘requirements’ as binding, rather than an internal view in which the partners fulfill each other’s needs out of love and appreciation for each other and for their relationship. In brief, you should want to do things for your partner rather than feel you have to.
The same principles should apply across the board in our personal relationships, including our relationship with God. Do we have an internal or external view of our relationship with God? Do we view God’s expectations as “limitations” and “requirements?” Do we just keep the commandments because we feel like we have to?
Your relationship with God
Each of us is trying to develop a personal relationship with God. John chapter 17 places a huge emphasis on the importance of developing that relationship:
And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.
Part of getting to know God is understanding what He expects of us if this relationship is going to work out and reach its potential. In other words, we’re extremely lucky for the clear expectations that God has communicated to us in the form of commandments.
Open communication and clear expectations are signs of a healthy relationship.
It’s ironic that sometimes we plead with God, “WHAT DO YOU WANT?” But then when he responds with divine counsel and commandments we sometimes reply, in essence, “UGH! There are so many rules in this family. I feel so imprisoned. Come on, Dad, let me do what I want!”
Choosing our path
God is not an overly protective parent (if He was, we probably never would have gotten to do this whole earth-life thing). God is not going to force us down the correct path. If we want to ruin our lives, He’s not going to stop us. If we don’t like the expectations he’s set, we don’t have to abide by them, but our relationship with God may suffer for it.
Sometimes we feed the mentality that, “If God loves me, He wants me to be happy and should let me do whatever the heck I want.” Indeed, God will let us do whatever the heck we want, and He’ll love us no matter what choices we make—but if our goal is to build a relationship with God, doing “whatever we want” isn’t the way to do it. Christ taught in John 14,
“If ye love me, keep my commandments.”
Through commandments, God has essentially said, “These are the things you can do to build a relationship with me.” It’s up to us whether we want to take advantage of that communication or not. Maybe we’d rather build a relationship with someone or something else. That’s the struggle of all mankind. The Tree of Life or the great and spacious building. The question is, who do you want to build a relationship with? “Thou mayest choose for thyself, for it is given unto thee.”