Love Is the Duty of Life
18 October 2015 (updated 28 November 2015)
Like Christianity generally, Mormonism stresses that our duty is love, particularly because love enables joy. Echoing the central themes of The New Testament, we read in The Book of Mormon:
“… wherefore, the Lord God hath given a commandment that all men should have charity, which charity is love. And except they should have charity they were nothing.” (2 Nephi 26: 30)
Although the scriptures characterize us as nothing without love, they continue:
“… as ye have come to the knowledge of the glory of God, or if ye have known of his goodness and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of your sins, which causeth such exceedingly great joy in your souls, even so I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness …” (Mosiah 4: 11)
From nothingness, the scripture says, love may yet empower us to attain great joy. Assuming that’s true, and that such joy is the purpose of life, it would be reasonable to esteem love as duty. This accords with Jesus’ teachings:
“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second [is] like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Matt 22: 37-39)
Here, Jesus enshrines love as the “first and great” duty. The implication of such esteem is that love would be a “first and great” way to achieve the purpose of life. That is, if such esteem is warranted, and if joy is that purpose, not only should love help us gain joy, but it should be a great way to gain great joy. And Mormon scripture characterizes love in precisely that way.
“And how great is [God’s] joy in the soul that repenteth! Wherefore, you are called to cry repentance unto this people. And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father! And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!” (Doctrine and Covenants 18: 13-16)
As illustrated here, the scriptural call to reach out in concern for others is positioned as having value precisely because it leads to great joy. And the greatness of this joy is not contained by or limited to the self, but rather the scripture presents great joy as extending from self to neighbor and even to God.
Although we might imagine many different kinds of love, or at least behaviors that some may label as “love,” the scriptures extensively advocate a particular account of love or “charity.” The Book of Mormon, echoing Paul from the New Testament, describes how this love would operate:
“And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things … But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.” (Moroni 7: 45, 47)
As described here, this love is concerned not only with its own joy, but also with that of others. This love would even suffer in the short term while maintaining hope for and working toward something better to come in the long run. Implicitly, this love would operate by anticipating conflicting desires and seeking their reconciliation.
This is the fourth in a series of posts in which I model a desire-based ethics by drawing on the Mormon authoritative tradition. In the first post, I introduced the model with the observation that desire entices us to embrace ethics. In the second post, I presented the idea that joy is the purpose of life. In the third post, I illustrated the understanding that joy is fulfillment of desires. In my next post, I’ll illustrate the understanding that love is reconciliation of desires, before tying the pieces together in a concluding post.