Thursday, August 27, 2009

False Midrashim and the Fall of the Kirtland Bank (part one)

I’ve heard an interesting false midrash on D&C 104: 17 several times now. It goes that the phrase “the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare” means that we don’t need to worry about things like future oil shortages because, after all, God said there would be enough.

I first heard this from a student in a Brigham Young University freshman composition class I was substitute-teaching—it was the heart of argument in an 8-page paper on energy policy. I asked him to read the next verse, and suggested that the promise is conditional (see D&C 130: 20-21) on our ability to live gospel laws: if people live modestly, if they impart of their substance to ease entrenched distributional inequalities, then there is enough for everyone. But, to butcher another scripture, if we all drive SUVs (even to church meetings two blocks away), we have no promise.

But who really wants to listen to me? Wouldn’t it be more righteous to have the faith to believe that a God who can split the water move mountains build planets can give us a little extra oil just for our faith?

It’s interesting: Mormonism’s commitment to balancing faith, works, and grace actually may be closer to productive paradox. We don’t believe in 33% faith, 33% works, 33% grace, we believe in at least 100% of each. Mormons should have:
-absolute faith in a living God’s miraculous power
-a standard of ethical and moral living that moves us toward our dream of Zion
-a total ability to let go sometimes and believe that God is great enough to save us

This is wonderful, but sometimes leaves us vulnerable to false ideas that appeal to, say, our sense of faith or righteousness. Relying on faith, we sometimes fail to be sufficiently faithful as stewards (an assignment that requires our vigilance and intelligence).

That’s what happens with the false midrash that teaches sufficient means limitless.

Marvin Hill argues it may be what happened with the Kirtland Bank, but works to distance Joseph Smith from such confusion. Next week, I’ll talk about why it’s OK to think that Joseph might have made the same error, and had to learn this lesson along with everyone else.

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