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Within these chapters, we learn about the ministry of Elisha the prophet. He multiplied food, prophesied of food, cured leprosy, and smote an army with blindness. There are so many principles within these stories!
Quick recap on Naaman’s story so we can pull the principles out.
Naaman was a Gentile; in other words, he wasn’t a member of the church. He was captain of the king’s armies in Syria, and he had leprosy. A little servant girl he captured from Israel told his wife about the prophet Elisha in Israel who could heal him. After a series of events, Naaman finds himself outside the house of Elisha, and Elisha sends a messenger with instructions on how to cleanse himself of leprosy. Naaman is to wash himself in the river Jordan seven times.
Now Naaman is wroth. Naaman is a pretty important man. He’s not super excited that Elisha sent a messenger rather than coming personally, and he’s annoyed that he traveled really far to bathe in a river that’s apparently not as clean as the ones in his homeland. He storms off, and his servants are like, “Dude, just try it.”
2 Kings 5:14 Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.
Naaman is cleansed after listening to the prophet.
Arbitrary and Morality
Bathing in the river Jordan seven times seems rather arbitrary to me. What was it about this river that cleansed Naaman? Was it Naaman’s act of faith that cleansed him or was the Lord aware of some mystical-science thing we don’t understand yet? It seems so random.
Now this random commandment from the prophet had me thinking about commandments from the Lord in general.
There are some commandments that make sense in absolutely any situation – I call these moral commandments. These are the types of commandments that will ultimately determine whether we fit into heaven. For example, we’ve been commanded to love others, forgive others, not covet, and do not murder. All of these commandments are moral, and they apply always. Let’s say you’re in heaven, and you suddenly see your neighbor eyeing your hot spouse. Heaven would feel a little less…heavenly. You suddenly wouldn’t be able to trust those around you, and the perfect society that exists in heaven would fall apart.
So if there are some commandments that are morally-based, what other kinds of commandments are there?
For starters, I think of bathing in the river Jordan. Is that a moral commandment? Is it a sin that I’ve never bathed seven times in the river? If you were up in heaven, would you start to worry if you found out your neighbor had never bathed in the river?
I think of the Law of Moses in general. Don’t touch a woman after she’s given birth. Don’t eat pork. Wash your hands. Is it truly sinful to not wash your hands? Is there anything morally wrong with not washing your hands?
And then there are modern-day commandments that might seem more applicable. Does drinking coffee make you a bad person? Does smoking marijuana make you a bad person? Does wearing a tank-top make you a bad person? Does speeding make you a bad person?
I would argue no. They don’t make you bad people. Heavenly Father isn’t angry at your coworkers (who aren’t members) for drinking coffee. He’s not mad at the mom in the tank-top at Walmart. There are a million people out there who drink alcohol who are every bit (if not more) kind and righteous as Latter-day Saints. These kinds of commandments don’t make you a bad person.
Stick with me for this spiel so you don’t think I’m trying to teach everyone to drink coffee.
If it’s not for moral purposes, why do we have these commandments? Are they less important than the morally-based commandments?
These commandments find their basis in wisdom.
Example. Last year in Doctrine and Covenants, we learned that the Lord warned His Saints not to rush to Missouri. He explicitly told them to be patient and wait their turn to move there. They didn’t listen, and guess what happened…they were kicked out. The native Missourians got nervous and fought them out with the infamous extermination order.
Was it sinful to want to rush to Zion? No! The Lord wants us to yearn for Zion.
Was it unwise to rush to Missouri? I’m gonna go with yes.
Even though you can take a drink of alcohol and never become an alcoholic, there is wisdom in the Lord’s advice. In the world we live in, the Lord has given us wise counsel that will protect us from consequences that could scar us for life. Perhaps it won’t scar you, but you won’t know that ahead of time.
Now there is a tricky part here that makes these wisdom-based commandments a little more important.
There is a morally-based commandment called obedience.
Sure, there’s wisdom in obedience, but it’s also morally-based. There is so much about the eternities we do not yet comprehend. If we get to the other side, and we’re sitting in heaven, and Heavenly Father gives us a commandment we don’t yet understand, are we going to obey Him? The answer is hopefully yes. Disobeying Him is something that would keep you out of heaven.
Will drinking a cup of coffee keep you out of heaven? I answer with a resounding no. Will an inclination towards disobedience keep you out of heaven? I answer with a resounding yes.
Okay cool…but why?
Perhaps you’re asking me why this matters. Why does it matter that some commandments are morally-based and some commandments are based simply in wisdom? They’re all commandments. Why don’t we just listen and let that be the end of it?
I testify that it does matter. It matters to your children and your Sunday School class and your primary class, and it matters in any interaction you have with the younger generation.
We are raising the most spiritually in-tune generation that has ever come to earth. I look at some of the youth I teach and interact with, and they know that a cup of coffee doesn’t make you a bad person. I think that we, as adults, sometimes get nervous because of the disobedience aspects of that commandment. Sometimes we try to scare them into avoiding coffee, or sometimes they hear us sounding a little judgmental of those who drink coffee. They know deep down that people who drink coffee are not bad people. Because of their remarkable spirits, their capacity to love and accept others is probably deeper than our own. Because of their remarkable spirits, our inability to teach this principle may drive them away. They will see the hypocrisy and run from it, and unfortunately, sometimes that means running away from the church.
I hear them talk about it. I hear them get frustrated over those who judge others. I have one friend who feels that he has become a much better person after leaving Christianity behind because he’s far less judgemental.
Looking beyond our example for the younger generation, recognizing the different types of commandments can help us see people more clearly. We can see the good in them. We can see that they would fit in as your next door neighbor in heaven.
We have more understanding for the convert trying to kick a coffee habit, and we applaud the person they are. We can teach our children how to be accepting of people who believe differently than we do. A nonmember who drinks coffee definitely isn’t sinning; they’re not doing anything morally wrong, and they never received the Word of Wisdom as a commandment and so there’s no aspect of obedience.
We better understand Christ’s analogy about the mote and the beam. Someone drinking coffee may have a mote in their eye. It will affect them; it may be annoying. However, breaking the morally based commandment to be loving and compassionate will be the spiritual equivalent of having a beam in your eye.
I know that Christ loves us. I know that He sees us clearly. He sees those who are willing to be obedient, those who are trying to kick a habit. He sees whether we’re truly trying to mold ourselves into looking like Him. He sees those who break His morally-based commandment to love and have compassion for others. He sees, and He judges perfectly.