On the flight from Salt Lake City to Phoenix last night, I began reading David Brooks, The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life (New York: Random House, 2019). It looks to be an extended argument for, and reflection on, the importance for a good life of strong commitments to one or all of these four things:
- A vocation
- A spouse and family
- A philosophy or faith
- A community
Reading the opening pages, in which Brooks constantly uses the term commitment, I found myself thinking very much of the various covenants associated with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and particularly those offered in the temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And, reflecting on those, I thought of this passage from a talk given by Elder Boyd K. Packer at the April 1987 general conference of the Church:
No matter what citizenship or race, whether male or female, no matter what occupation, no matter your education, regardless of the generation in which one lives, life is a homeward journey for all of us, back to the presence of God in his celestial kingdom.
Ordinances and covenants become our credentials for admission into His presence. To worthily receive them is the quest of a lifetime; to keep them thereafter is the challenge of mortality.
Once we have received them for ourselves and for our families, we are obligated to provide these ordinances vicariously for our kindred dead, indeed for the whole human family.
Says David Brooks:
A commitment is making a promise to something without expecting a reward. A commitment is falling in love with something and then building a structure of behavior around it for those moments when love falters. (xviii)
“Building a structure of behavior around it for those moments when love falters.”
That language really jumped out at me. The King James Version of the Bible renders Psalm 15, which can easily be read as a kind of checklist of requirements for admission to the temple, to the “mountain of the Lord,” as follows:
Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill?
He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart.
He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour.
In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honoureth them that fear the Lord. He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not.
He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved.
It’s the Psalmist’s phrase “He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not” that has long caught my particular attention. While serving as the bishop of a congregation of young single adults, I often used it when I was sending a young man or young woman or a couple to the temple for marriage. At that point in their lives, they are giddy with excitement and love, and they can scarcely imagine the need for formal promises to — covenants with — each other. Surely, they will never be out of love! The passion will never die!
But there will inevitably come emotional dry spells when romantic passion is at a low ebb, or where irritation has at least temporarily eclipsed love. Where pressure interferes or urgent priorities distract. Or where, perhaps, there is a temptation to stray. And that’s where the remembrance of solemn oaths and covenants can serve as the backstop — as, perhaps, the last redoubt, the saving sanctuary, the guarantor against passing inclinations or disinclinations. And, thus, as the preserver of lasting relationships and the path to future satisfaction.
Back to David Brooks:
I now think good character is a by-product of giving yourself away. You love things that are worthy of love. You surrender to a community or cause, make promises to other people, build a thick jungle of loving attachments, lose yourself in the daily act of serving others as they lose themselves in the daily acts of serving you. (xix-xx)
It’s about finding an ethos that puts commitment making at the center of things. (xxiii)
Covenant-making and covenant-keeping are absolutely at the heart of the Restored Gospel. As they should be.
Posted from Phoenix, Arizona