Recite your vows in the temple for a happy marriage. Serve a mission and succeed in life. Keep yourself pure and be rewarded with a devoted spouse. Fast and pray and receive the guidance of the Holy Ghost in your decisions. Pay tithing and prosper financially. Read the scriptures and receive inspiration. Obey the Word of Wisdom and receive good health. The list of commandments to obey and blessings attached to them—not to mention negative consequences for not obeying—is nearly endless for Mormons. Living gospel principles assures direct access to God for help throughout life. Primary children learn in the song, “Follow the Prophet,” that “When we really try the Lord won’t fail us.”
Most Mormons wax philosophical when promised blessings refuse to materialize. We create escape clauses: “The time is not right.” “I’m being tested.” “The Lord has an even bigger blessing in store for me—just around the corner,” or even, “Since our prayers to sell our house haven’t been answered, Heavenly Father must want us to stay here.” All of these are relatively healthy, although not necessarily useful, responses to disappointment.
I perceive that the Church hierarchy has backed away from guaranteeing specific blessings for obedience in recent years, but that hasn’t filtered down to the rank and file yet. My visiting teacher read me a lesson on receiving personal revelation this month and bore fervent testimony that preparing ourselves with fasting and prayer, then visiting the temple will bring a sure answer from the Holy Ghost to any question or problem. I’m glad that works for her, but I know people who have made really bad decisions following a prayerful visit to the temple.
Again, most Mormons don’t take lessons and talks quite that literally, but some do. If a person is promised specific blessings for obeying commandments and doesn’t receive them, even after doing everything possible to make herself worthy, she has two choices: Blame herself or blame the church. Blaming ones’ self can result in a hair-shirt mentality as a person strives ever harder to merit God’s help.
It’s probably personally healthier and more realistic to blame the church—or at least the mis-interpretation of principles. I think we all know former members who left the church because of disillusionment: The person who married a returned missionary in the temple only to have a miserable marriage. Persons struggling with chronic disease for which priesthood blessings have been ineffective. Converts who suffer severe depression over loss of family relationships after their baptisms. Loss of jobs, the list goes on.
The real world is a complex place. While I wouldn’t term exaggerated claims for blessings and miracles lying, the practice is not harm free. A more realistic approach is to offer gospel principles as a guide to a good life style, but not a panacea for every problem. The leader of my Zen meditation class was asked, “What has meditation done for you?” His answer: “Not a thing!” Obviously, he was kidding, but I respect him for not trying to proselytize us with promises of achieving Nirvana from our practice. I like the Buddhist admonition to try for one’s self any principle taught. True principles don’t need hype.