As a follow up to the Temple Threshold post, and before moving on to the Creation, let’s briefly consider a few ideas about worthiness.
First, one just for fun. These are a supposed sampling of old temple recommend questions from the late 1800s or early 1900s. (A friend gave this list to me. I’m not vouching for its historical accuracy, but some of these questions made me smile and reflect on how much our world has changed in the last hundred years.)
1 – Have you committed murder, by shedding innocent blood, or consenting thereto?
2 – Have you committed adultery, by having any connection with a woman that was not your wife, or a man that was not your husband?
3 – Have you cut hay where you had no right to, or turned your animals into another person’s grain or field, without his knowledge and consent?
4 – Have you coveted anything not your own?
5 – Have you been intoxicated with strong drink?
6 – Have you branded an animal that you did not know to be your own?
7 – Have you taken another’s horse or mule from the range and rode it without the owner’s consent?
8 – Have you taken water to irrigate with, when it belonged to another person at the time you used it?
9 – Do you pay your tithing promptly?
10 – Do you teach your family the gospel of salvation?
11 – Do you wash your body and have your family do so, as often as health and cleanliness require and circumstances will permit?
12 – Do you labor six days and rest, or go to the house of worship, on the seventh?
13 – Have you labored diligently and earned faithfully the wages paid you by your employer?
14 – Do you oppress the hireling in his wages?
15 – Have you taken up and converted any stray animal to your own use, or in any manner appropriated one to your benefit, without accounting therefor to the proper authorities?
These questions highlight some of the challenges faced back then, but the principles behind them, such as honesty, are still important today.
On a more serious note, why do we need a recommend before going to the temple? The principle behind this practice is found in the Lord’s commandment: “And inasmuch as my people build a house unto me in the name of the Lord, and do not suffer any unclean thing to come into it, that it be not defiled, my glory shall rest upon it; Yea, and my presence shall be there, for I will come into it, and all the pure in heart that shall come into it shall see God. But if it be defiled I will not come into it, and my glory shall not be there; for I will not come into unholy temples” (D&C 97:15-17).
The challenge is how to judge what is unclean and prevent it from defiling the temple? Church authorities have instituted and utilize a list of temple recommend questions to make this determination. These questions are occasionally updated and revised as times and circumstances change.
In the current 2015 temple recommend questions the final one asks: “Do you consider yourself worthy to enter the Lord’s house and participate in temple ordinances?” That question always gives me pause to think, though I am living the standards of the Church and am worthy of a recommend.
Have you ever wondered how the Lord views our worthiness?
A couple of scriptures provide some insights. One is found in Luke 18:10-14: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. [Notice, both went up to the temple. The Pharisee’s were respected leaders and looked up to as religious examples in the community. The publicans were tax collectors and not well liked.]
The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I posses. [God refused to acknowledge his prayer. He “prays with himself” and praises his own “good” works.]
And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying God be merciful to me a sinner.
I tell you, that this man went down to his house justified rather than the other.
We aren’t told what sins or challenges this publican had in his life. Nor does Christ deny that the Pharisee had done the good works he claimed. In fact, judged by all external standards of worthiness the Pharisee might have been living a better life than the publican. But it is the publican whom God acknowledges. Why?
In like manner, the Book of Mormon testifies that “none is acceptable before God, save the meek and lowly in heart” (Moroni 7:44).
Mormon warned us with strong words. He says “Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing. I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts…and your churches, yea, even every one, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts.” (Mormon 8:35-36).
My own pride has polluted God’s holy church for far too long. That thought causes me great sorrow and a desire to change. I wish to repent of my pride and to walk in meekness and humility before God. I want to have compassion and charity for those around me and especially for those who are struggling. It can be so easy to be judgmental of others when we are living the “standards” like the Pharisee.
The other scripture that comes to mind refers to a yet future time when Christ shall judge and divide his sheep from the goats. He boils the challenge of life’s test down to one simple thing:
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not….
And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous unto life eternal. (Matthew 25:31-46).
Mormon’s warning touches on the same idea: “For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.” (Mormon 8:37).
God is concerned with our hearts. When our hearts are right before Him we naturally turn to serving and ministering to His children.
When asked if we consider ourselves worthy to enter the temple, perhaps we should consider the conditions of our own heart.
In all of this, it also seems important to distinguish our individual “worth” from our “worthiness”. Our great worth to God is inherent and not based upon the worthiness or unworthiness of our lives at a particular point in time. Or as the old saying captures it—all saints have a past, and sinners have a future.
Repentance is at the heart of the good news of the gospel. “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God. For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him.” (D&C 18:10-11).