To think that 2021 could not be worse than 2020 is a failure of the imagination. It is not what I want to be pondering right now, but I must nevertheless consider it. Now, no matter what goes on, I must still work out my own salvation with fear and trembling. Nowhere does the chaos in the world give me permission to be unrepentant, or prideful, or depressed.
Even though it seems like 3 out of 4 of my coreligionists supported a political movement not only naked and unashamed of its embrace of racially-discriminatory policies and agendas, but also one that denies the validity of our elections, I must remain true to a faith that I evaluated solely upon the truth it offered, not the members within that faith.
What confounds me further in my thinking is that in more than one portion of my coreligionists’ scriptures, there are direct equivalencies drawn between those who do not support the validity of elections and those who do, ultimately, support only themselves in prideful constructs. In other words, that which they do support now is clearly called out in scripture as evil. Yet, they join with it and call evil good. And, perhaps, more than one will say a prayer for me specifically or in general that I might come to my senses and join with them in their fantasy to “stop the steal”.
And if I do not join with them in their push to overturn what has been a free and fair election, such as they go, then I presume they will be troubled that I am become a hell-bound soul.
To quote Curtis Mayfield, “If there’s a hell below, we’re all gonna go.”
I would have had the same experience of unease during the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s or the rise of Nazism in the 1930s. My coreligionists joined in with those movements and expressed sympathies for them. And while the top leadership of my church condemned the KKK, it did not condemn the Nazi party. There are even articles written by that leadership that attempt to illustrate where Nazism and my church have commonalities. There is even a case of one of those top leaders denying immigration assistance to converts with Jewish ancestry as they plead for his help in escaping Nazi-occupied Austria.
I feel deep pain as I contemplate such things, but nowhere does that release me from my own obligations to work out my salvation with fear and trembling. Rather, it reinforces the idea that, while I can look to a fellow man here and there as someone worthy of emulating, ultimately I must not trust in the arm of flesh for anything of an Eternal nature.
I see hell as a state of being perfectly aware of one’s flaws as a person. Just as we only get glimpses of heaven as we walk this earth, we only get similar sparse revelations of the hell that awaits should we periodically take stock of our regrets and evils. Once we exit those moments, we are back in the mundane world.
Judgment is called “great and dreadful” for a reason. It is something best approached with contrition, humility, and sorrow for one’s sins. Yes, we have a hope for joy in Jesus Christ the Savior, but that is a hope meant to sustain us through the trials and hardships of repentance, which must reach deeper and wider than we imagine in order for them to fully cleanse us and make us whole. The man who walks boldly to the final judgment will be left miserable when, for the first time, his full accounting of sins is revealed unto him.
Now, that misery also awaits the person who is fully aware of his own personal catalog of evil, but the difference is that person is already enduring some hell and is now broken and contrite, ready to accept a change in himself in order to be done with the evils of mortality. I would presume that the bold man made suddenly miserable has a similar capability to become broken and contrite and to thereby desire the path of the penitent one. But I presume also that such a path is more difficult to follow, the soul being unfamiliar with that terrain on account of a lack of repentance in mortality.
Unquestionably, there are things we all do not yet consider as requiring repentance that will demand it in the judgement that awaits. Likewise, I do not consider that there are men who are brazen about some sins without being considerate of others. It’s a matter of percentages, ultimately. But each one of those unconsidered sins is potentially that which we cling to in our pride, and which keeps us from returning to the presence of God. I would say that the more we take stock of our evils and repent of the, the less likely we are to cling to that pride which justifies the sin in our own mind and makes us ready to wage war against God in our defense of sin.
I would draw a conclusion that those who are worried most about hell that they are constantly turning to prayer and fasting and acts of contrition are the ones most prepared to return to God’s presence. Those who wonder if there is any sin upon them as they pass through mortality are unprepared for that meeting at the judgment bar.
And though I do not support a faction that is the clear parallel of that which has been condemned in my holy scriptures, I do not presuppose that I am given a free pass into heaven that does not require of me that I face my other sins and infirmities of the spirit. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did great works in advancing the causes of peace and justice: he must still answer for his adulteries. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi did much that which was wonderful and good as he campaigned for justice and equality, but he must answer for the cruelties he dealt out to his family members.
Now, I believe that they will have an easier time working through those troubles than someone who may have been generous to his servants and staff, but who also participated actively in constructing and carrying out Hitler’s genocides. Doing good prepares us for cleansing ourselves of sin. Doing evils hinders that cleansing process, possibly bringing it to a complete halt. We must be cautious.
This is why I say that, no matter what sad folly has misled the souls of 3 out of 4 of my coreligionists, I am nevertheless not excused from my personal responsibilities to work out my own salvation with fear and trembling. It is not as if knowing the truth is supposed to guarantee a sinless existence: the very scriptures that condemn following after an antidemocratic personality also note that many members of the church did follow after such a person, to the woe and consternation of those who did not fall after such a person. Those same scriptures feature a Christ come to visit them, who then laments how often he would have gathered them as a hen gathers her chicks if they would but listen to his words and then obey them. People failing to do what is right in spite of the truth taught to them is a theme throughout my scriptures: why should I be surprised that this day is peopled with the same humans as of old?
Even if they harden their hearts, I must keep mine tender. Even if they espouse lies, I must not abandon my seeking of truth. Even if they persecute me within the walls of our common church, I must forgive them, for they know not what they do.
Even if 2020 turns out to have been the year in which a general consensus formed around a fascist movement in the USA that eventually leads to the deaths of millions, even tens of millions or more, I must be hopeful in 2021 about what I can do to improve my own soul as I remember that no one can repent for my wrongs but myself.
Just as 1860 was a truly horrible year in US history, it did not prevent the years that followed from being any worse. So it is today. Bad as things are, they can get worse. But I always have myself in the here and now and I will always be responsible for the maintenance of my soul, that I might approach the judgment bar of God with fear and trembling, hopeful that the atonement of Christ can stretch enough to pay for my sins, and also hopeful that my covenants were honored enough that I might be ready for my final repentance, preparatory to returning to God. I would hope that for one and for all, but it’s my own existence that I have to work most on.
And so, I am resolved for this year.