Every now and then I come across a post or comment by someone who thinks the Mormons have too many rules, that the rules are a burden, and that people should have more freedom. What is most interesting to me is that most of these people are Christian and say they believe the Bible. One Mormon rule is to read the Bible—all of it, Old and New Testaments—regularly. Having done so, it’s hard to miss the fact that the Bible is just full of rules. Most are far more restrictive than the Mormon rules of today.
The people of the Old Testament had to follow the Law of Moses. In fact, Jesus Christ Himself lived the Law of Moses. I don’t believe He complained even once that they were too restrictive, too unfair, or took away His freedom. I don’t believe He found them to be a burden.
Rather, I think He found them to be a blessing. Of course, today we don’t need to follow that particular law, because it was replaced with higher laws, but Jesus didn’t create a do-anything-you-want kingdom. He spent a great deal of time teaching rules, which He called commandments. Are the commandments optional? Let’s look at the Bible:
21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven (Matthew 7:21).
16 ¶And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?
17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
18 He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,
19 Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
20 The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?
21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.
22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.
15 If ye love me, keep my commandments (John 14:15).
I think it’s pretty safe to say the commandments are not suggestions. Without question, Jesus taught that if you don’t obey them you won’t get eternal life, which means to live in God’s presence. Jesus did not give the rich young man a complete list of commandments. He had just started naming the Ten Commandments—still in effect today—when the young man interrupted him.
What we learn from that young man is that his commitment to God was shallow. He was willing to do the easy things—things that were easy because they were a habit started in childhood and that perhaps didn’t interrupt his life too badly. When, however, Jesus suggested a complete commitment—including giving up all his wealth—that was a different story. He didn’t want to be a Christian that badly. He didn’t want to live with God that badly. He was so caught up in his temporary life on Earth that he was unwilling to make any real sacrifices for the future.
When we complain that God’s laws—because that’s what Mormon rules really are—are too restrictive, we’re making a comment about our commitment to God. Should any rule be too restrictive if it comes from God? Was God unfair to the Israelites or to Jesus and the apostles? God has given us everything—the little he asks in return is not very hard in comparison.
While the rules may seem restrictive, they still leave room for a great deal of freedom. Have you ever written or read a sonnet? There are a multitude of rules for sonnets, and yet there is an unlimited number of sonnets that have been written and will continue to be written. The rules don’t stifle the ability of the sonnet to be a platform for the writer’s heart.
Rules protect us. We make rules for our children because we love them. We don’t allow a toddler to run into the street or wander the mall alone. We don’t let our children refuse to get an education. We make these rules not to be mean or restrictive, but to protect them both now and for the future. A child who never becomes educated will have a miserable adult life and we know this, so we give him rules to protect him from that misery.
God loves us. He makes rules in order to protect us now and in the eternities. We may not always understand the rules, and we may not always like them, but they have protected millions of people over the centuries. One Mormon woman who was an international church leader and is now a corporate CEO, Sheri L. Dew, says people sometimes scoff at her standards. She never married and obeys the law of chastity. She points out she has never wasted a moment of her successful and happy life worrying about whether or not she has a sexually transmitted disease or is facing an unwanted pregnancy. At a conference of women who were not Mormon, she pointed out that every societal problem they were trying to resolve in that meeting had its roots in immorality. Were people willing to sacrifice their immorality, most of society’s problems would disappear.
The question is not whether or not the rules are too hard. The question is whether or not we have the maturity to deny a certain level of worldly pleasure today in return for untold blessings in the future. The question is about how much we really love God. Are we willing to do just the basics, like the rich young man who spoke with Jesus, or are we willing to give up everything, if God should ask it, for the Savior?
How Christian are we? That’s what Mormon rules really tell us. It’s been interesting to me, since becoming a Mormon as a teenager, that those who live the laws best are the happiest. To me, as a teen deciding how to live, that was proof that what I was being taught was valid—keeping God’s commandments really does bring joy.