I’ve been pondering the phrase “moderation in all things” lately.
We, meaning members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, tend to spout this off as doctrine in reference to many things. As this phrase has been in my mind I have recognized that there are many things in which moderation is required. For example, I mentioned in a previous post that Satan has both the extreme view of over-emphasizing the body and the opposite extreme view of over-emphasizing the mind. Both are deceptions and the truthfulness lies in a balance between both body and spirit.
Another example is in diet. There are many extreme diets out there that exclude whole food groups in the attempt to be healthy. Even within the church people misunderstand the scripture in D&C 89:12-13 thinking that means we should be vegetarians. Yet the scriptures specifically address that issue in D&C 49:18-19 when it says (in part) “And whoso forbiddeth to abstain from meats, that man should not eat the same, is not ordained of God;” Again, the truthfulness of diet lies in balance. Since each individual is different with different physical weaknesses and needs and allergies what a healthy diet is for you may be different than everyone else.
Another example is in intimacy. Our church strongly believes in complete fidelity between husband and wife who are legally married. That means we believe that sexual relations, of any sort, outside of marriage are a sin. However, the opposite extreme of taking a vow of celibacy, as is the practice in other religions, is not something that we view as correct because sexual relations between a husband and wife are certainly healthy, beautiful and necessary to bring children into the world.
In looking at the temptation of extremes that Satan tempts us with C.S. Lewis said this:
“I expect you feel a strong desire to tell me – which of these two errors is the worse. That is the devil getting at us. He always sends errors into the world in pairs – pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one.”
(C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, p.185)
So as I’ve spent the last few days pondering this I have come to recognize the truthfulness that Satan works in extremes and the Lord works in, what at the time I was calling, moderation.
This morning, as I was doing the background work on all my references I realized, to my surprise, that there is no scriptural reference for the phrase moderation in all things! It is one of those things we say thinking it is scripture, but thanks to modern technology and the ability to search the entire standard works for a specific phrase I was unable to find any scripture containing that phrase. Please send me a correction if I am wrong.
However, as I was searching for a scripture that doesn’t exist I found this devotional by Elder Dallin H. Oaks (which contains everything I am attempting to say in a far better way) wherein he says:
Moderation in all things is not a virtue because it would seem to justify moderation in commitment. That is not moderation but indifference. That kind of “moderation” runs counter to the divine commands to serve with all of our “heart, might, mind and strength” (D&C 4:2), to “seek . . . earnestly the riches of eternity” (D&C 68:31), and to be “valiant in the testimony of Jesus” (D&C 76:79). Moderation is not the answer.
(Dallin H. Oaks, Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall, BYU Fireside, 1992)
My original intent in this post was to justify the phrase moderation in all things, but as so frequently happens with more in-depth study a small but significant error became apparent. That is exactly why we are so strongly urged to study for ourselves, so we can distinguish between what is church culture and what is true doctrine and therefore our testimonies will be founded in the lasting and eternal doctrine and not in the changing church culture, and thus built on the firm foundation of Christ.
So instead of coming to my original conclusion of “moderation in all things” I have decided to amend the phrase I mentioned previously: Satan works in extremes, the Lord works in balance.
The truth is balance takes far more mastery than extremes do. We will look at the example of diet, it takes a lot of self mastery to be able to have a relatively appropriate portion of a dessert or treat. Indulging completely in a treat defies its purpose and it is no longer a treat, or something that is special, but a snack and takes no self mastery at all. Abstaining completely is of course more difficult (of course depending who you are, but for me it is the more difficult choice) however still takes less self mastery than balance.
I find that extremes in all things are easy to settle into without constant correction and control. However, we, as mortals, are not capable of the self mastery required to achieve balance in all things. That requires help from the Savior and his gift of the atonement. Through both the enabling and strengthening powers of the atonement we can learn to achieve the delicate balance that is required by the Lord to pass the test of mortal life.