By Eric Johnson
In the last message of the April 2016 General Conference, Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland attempted to provide encouragement to those Latter-day Saints who become discouraged in their struggle to do everything that is commanded of them. Titled “Tomorrow the Lord Will Do Wonders among You,” the message references the “mountain-top” experiences of Moses and Peter, James, and John. Holland explained:
Realizing that we all have to come down from peak experiences to deal with the regular vicissitudes of life, may I offer this encouragement as general conference concludes.
He then went on to say:
First of all, if in the days ahead you not only see limitations in those around you but also find elements in your own life that don’t yet measure up to the messages you have heard this weekend, please don’t be cast down in spirit and don’t give up. The gospel, the Church, and these wonderful semiannual gatherings are intended to give hope and inspiration. They are not intended to discourage you.
It ought to be pointed out that this was not the first time that Holland talked about “trying” in a positive sense. For instance, five years earlier (April 2011), he talked about how the general authorities choose topics for the conference. He explained, “We know that most in our audience are not guilty of [viewing pornography or shirking marriage or having illicit sexual relationships], but we are under a solemn charge to issue warning calls to those who are.” Then he added,
So if you are trying to do the best you can—if, for example, you keep trying to hold family home evening in spite of the bedlam that sometimes reigns in a houseful of little bedlamites—then give yourself high marks and, when we come to that subject, listen for another which addresses a topic where you may be lacking (Ensign, May 2011, pp. 112-113).
In what he called “listen(ing) by the Spirit,” the audience was told that this particular message probably didn’t apply, so they were encouraged to wait for another speaker who may deliver a “personal prophetic epistle [given] just to you.”
In his 2016 talk, Holland suggested that the messages given in General Conference are “intended to give hope and inspiration. They are not intended to discourage you.” An outsider might ask, “How could anyone who attends general conference become discouraged?” Perhaps it’s because many faithful Latter-day Saints believe that what is said at this biannual event are “kick-in-the-tail” reminders rather than congratulatory pats on the back. While the leaders generally don’t admit to having any short-comings of their own, it is typical for them to tell the membership to get in step with the program and follow the orders of the leaders.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with challenging messages and an encouragement to do the right thing. But it’s done with such regularity at general conference that it has become what many Latter-day Saints expect. The discouragement in not being able to meet the standards must weigh heavily on sincere followers of this faith.
Holland then continued:
Only the adversary, the enemy of us all, would try to convince us that the ideals outlined in general conference are depressing and unrealistic, that people don’t really improve, that no one really progresses. And why does Lucifer give that speech? Because he knows he can’t improve, he can’t progress, that worlds without end he will never have a bright tomorrow. He is a miserable man bound by eternal limitations, and he wants you to be miserable too. Well, don’t fall for that. (Italics in original from the printed edition of his talk)
For those who become discouraged, Lucifer becomes a scapegoat. Instead of blaming Lucifer, it would seem that those who give the messages should be considered more culpable for discouraging the membership. At this point, Holland gave the most memorable line in his entire talk:
With the gift of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the strength of heaven to help us, we can improve, and the great thing about the gospel is we get credit for trying, even if we don’t always succeed.
A conversation with two Latter-day Saints
In late May 2016, two young LDS ladies sat in back of me at the church I attend. They were each 19 years old; one of them was fulfilling a community college humanities class requirement. After the service, we had a chance to talk. It was a cordial conversation. One asked me about the cross at the front of the sanctuary and why this was an important symbol to Evangelical Christians. Using some biblical references for support, I explained how Jesus paid for all sins—past, present, and future—on that cross.
When I asked them about their belief, they told me how “the atonement” and “grace” was important to them. As we discussed the difference between general salvation and individual exaltation, one stated,
I like a talk given by Brad Wilcox where he explained how this works. Also, Apostle Holland recently gave a talk in general conference and said we get credit for trying.
I must admit that I wasn’t surprised that she had quoted Holland using his exact words. When I first read his conference address, I wondered how soon it would be before I heard Mormons referencing it. Apparently it didn’t take long. I asked her, “What exactly did he mean when he said that?” She responded by telling me how Holland had realized the difficulty is doing everything that is commanded, so “he showed how we don’t need to be perfect.” In fact, she said, as long as a person repented and meant it, that is what God needed in order to provide forgiveness. Success in keeping the commandments apparently is a secondary aspect. I was fascinated with this answer. I explained how another apostle (Spencer W. Kimball, who later became the 13th LDS prophet) wrote,
Trying Is Not Sufficient. Nor is repentance complete when one merely tries to abandon sin (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 164).
Kimball had much more to say on the topic:
Repentance must involve an all-out, total surrender to the program of the Lord. That transgressor is not fully repentant who neglects his tithing, misses his meetings, breaks the Sabbath, fails in his family prayers, does not sustain the authorities of the Church, breaks the Word of Wisdom, does not love the Lord nor his fellowmen. A reforming adulterer who drinks or curses is not repentant. The repenting burglar who has sex play is not ready for forgiveness. God cannot forgive unless the transgressor shows a true repentance which spreads to all areas of his life (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 203. See also Doctrines of the Gospel Student Manual: Religion 231 and 232, p. 41. See also Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, p. 43).
When I cited the first statement by Kimball, the young woman wrinkled her forehead. “The Miracle of Forgiveness is not scripture,” she said in a straightforward manner. Technically she’s correct. Yet I pointed out how Brad Wilcox is a BYU professor, not a general authority, yet she had referenced his talk earlier as authoritative. In addition, I explained how Spencer Kimball was an apostle when he wrote The Miracle of Forgiveness; in fact, he later became a prophet and never disowned any of his previous teaching. His book was even recommended twice from general conference pulpits. It should be pointed out that Kimball’s teaching has been referenced in a number of church manuals (note how the previous quote I provided was cited twice in official manuals) and at other conferences. In a church manual titled Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness was quoted from dozens of times. How much authoritative can it get?
Kimball also said,
Christ became perfect through overcoming. Only as we overcome shall we become perfect and move toward godhood. As I have indicated previously, the time to do this is now, in mortality (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 210).
Even though the young woman didn’t think that perfection was possible, Kimball apparently thought it was:
This progress toward eternal life is a matter of achieving perfection. Living all the commandments guarantees total forgiveness of sins and assures one of exaltation through that perfection which comes by complying with the formula the Lord gave us. In his Sermon on the Mount he made the command to all men: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48.) Being perfect means to triumph over sin. This is a mandate from the Lord. He is just and wise and kind. He would never require anything from his children which was not for their benefit and which was not attainable. Perfection therefore is an achievable goal (The Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 208-209).
The Temple Recommend Interview
LDS scripture supports the teaching of Kimball. For instance, 1 Nephi 3:7 in the Book of Mormon says that it is possible for a person to keep God’s commands. It says,
And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.
The idea that the commandments need to be kept is certainly a teaching of the Doctrine and Covenants. For instance, D&C 1: 31-32 says,
For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance; Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven.
True repentance requires abandonment of the sins, says D&C 58:42-43:
Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more. By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.
Here is my problem with how Holland’s words may be perceived. If it is true that sincere people get some type of “credit for trying,” how should Kimball’s words be reconciled? Both Kimball and Holland were apostles at the time they said what they said. If Alma 29:4 insists that the “the decrees of God are unalterable,” and if 1 Nephi 3:7 says they are d0-able, how can two people who call themselves “general authorities” be so contradictory? When I asked the two Mormons if they could provide a scriptural reference that would support the notion that some type of credit could be earned by trying, there was silence. I then provided a scenario with a young married couple seeking access to the temple for their marriage:
COUPLE: “Bishop, we’d like to get our temple recommends cards.”
BISHOP: “OK, are you tithing?”
COUPLE: “Well, we give 3 percent of our income, but we get credit for trying.”
BISHOP: “How are you doing at the Word of Wisdom?”
COUPLE: “You know, we are only going to Starbucks three times a week. But what an improvement over last year when we went every day! We’re getting so much better. And I’m glad we’re covered here because we are trying.”
BISHOP: “Hmm, how about your church attendance?”
COUPLE: “Twice a month we faithfully attend the sacrament service, except on those Sundays where the Green Bay Packers have the early game. We’re sure the Lord understands because we’re cheeseheads. And Lord knows, we’re trying!”
Using this example, I asked the two Mormons how they thought this bishop would rule regarding their ability to attend the temple. They were willing to tithe, keep the Word of Wisdom, and attend regular services, but the results all fell short. Should they get the necessary credentials for their planned marriage in the temple? Their response? “Probably not.” After all, the ladies explained, “they weren’t doing what they needed to do.” They agreed that not getting approval to enter the temple was damnable, as temple marriage (“for time and eternity”) is a strict requirement for exaltation. This raises the question: Why would God extend credit to those hoping to gain exaltation while not providing any leeway for others who were trying hard but fell short in the temple recommend interview? If it is possible to get credit for trying and possibly appease God’s justice, then it seems strange that there is a higher standard for a person trying to enter an earthly temple. Does God have higher standards for a person attempting to gain a temple recommend versus someone who seeks exaltation?
Holland’s Citation of the Standard Works
When I returned home, I went back to Holland’s talk in the May 2016 Ensign magazine to see if he used any scriptural support for his point. He did. Let’s continue with his talk:
When there was a controversy in the early Church regarding who was entitled to heaven’s blessings and who wasn’t, the Lord declared to the Prophet Joseph Smith, “Verily I say unto you, [the gifts of God] are given for the benefit of those who love me and keep … my commandments, and [for them] that seeketh so to do.” Boy, aren’t we all thankful for that added provision “and … seeketh so to do”! That has been a lifesaver because sometimes that is all we can offer! We take some solace in the fact that if God were to reward only the perfectly faithful, He wouldn’t have much of a distribution list.
This is what D&C 46:9 says in its context:
For verily I say unto you, they are given for the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments, and him that seeketh so to do;
Besides not citing the “for” at the beginning of the sentence as well as the bracketed words, look closely and see if you can spot another change. There is an ellipsis between “keep” and “my commandments,” which means there is a missing word or words. It is the word “all.” In case any one is wondering, Holland wasn’t go off memory and possible missed the word since he was reading the passage in his notes.
I’ve done a lot of writing in my life. I’ve coauthored three books and have penned dozens of journal articles. I also taught English at the high school and college level. While it’s acceptable to use an ellipsis for just one word, I’m not sure why a speaker or writer would use this tool in this particular scenario. We’re talking about one word that is made up of just three letters. Eliminating a word did not save any space since the three dots making up the ellipsis have just as many characters. Did Holland not want his audience to feel bad about reminding them that “all”–not just “some” or “most”–the commandments are required? By taking out this word, it changes the meaning. It’s one thing to “keep” commandments, but it’s another to “keep all my commandments.”
Of course, D&C 46:9 is right in line with so many other passages, including D&C 25:15. It says,
Keep my commandments continually, and a crown of righteousness thou shalt receive. And except thou do this, where I am you cannot come.
In a 1974 General Conference address, Apostle Mark E. Petersen expounded on this passage:
“Come unto me and be ye saved; for verily I say unto you, that except ye shall keep my commandments, which I have commanded you at this time, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (3 Ne. 12:20.) Stop and think what those words can mean to you and your family. Study them. Ponder over them. They are most serious—“except ye shall keep my commandments, which I have commanded you at this time, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” In the early history of our church the Savior gave a revelation in which he said essentially the same thing: “Keep my commandments continually. … And except thou do this, where I am you cannot come.” (D&C 25:15.)” (“Eternal Togetherness,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 1974, p. 49. Ellipsis in original).
In 1990, Apostle Robert D. Hales stated,
Elder Bruce R. McConkie, a man of great faith, said, “Faith is a gift of God bestowed as a reward for personal righteousness.…The greater the measure of obedience to God’s laws the greater will be the endowment of the [gift of faith].” (Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966, p. 264; Italics in original.) In other words, obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel is essential to obtain faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Doctrine and Covenants stresses this very important point of obedience in a very simple way. The Lord says: “Keep my commandments continually.… And except thou do this, where I am you cannot come.” (D&C 25:15.)” (Robert D. Hales, “The Aaronic Priesthood: Return with Honor,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 1990, p. 39. Brackets, italics, and ellipses in original).
In addition, when the context of D&C 46 is considered, it shows that Holland twisted this verse to make it say something it was never intended to say! Here are verses 3-6:
Nevertheless ye are commanded never to cast any one out from your public meetings, which are held before the world. Ye are also commanded not to cast any one who belongeth to the church out of your sacrament meetings; nevertheless, if any have trespassed, let him not partake until he makes reconciliation. And again I say unto you, ye shall not cast any out of your sacrament meetings who are earnestly seeking the kingdom—I speak this concerning those who are not of the church. And again I say unto you, concerning your confirmation meetings, that if there be any that are not of the church, that are earnestly seeking after the kingdom, ye shall not cast them out.
According to the preface to D&C 46, “truth seekers should not be excluded from sacramental services.” In other words, the Latter-day Saints are being addressed and instructed not to “cast any one out from your public meetings” as long as “they are earnestly seeking after the kingdom.” (Notice the same word “seek” is used again in verse 9.) Understanding that the context concerns both Mormons and nonMormons will help the reader make a proper interpretation. Using modern-day language, let me translate verse 9 loosely:
The gifts of God are given to those Latter-day Saints who love me and keep each one of my commandments. In addition, these gifts are available to those sincere outsiders as long as they are trying.
Those who were “seeking” to keep God’s commandments might later become Latter-day Saints, but at this particular time, they had not yet come to the “light.” I am not a Mormon general authority; I am not even a Latter-day Saint. Yet I, as an outsider, understand that in order for words to have meaning, they must be considered in their context. Proper interpretation cannot take place when a person pulls a verse out of its context to make it say something that the original author never intended. When Holland said that D&C 46:9 “has been a lifesaver because sometimes that is all we can offer!” did he realize he was doing eisegesis (reading into a text) rather than exegesis (properly interpreting the text). Therefore, his interpretation makes absolutely no sense.
What does a person do to obtain mercy?
Holland offers additional citations from the Standard Works:
Please remember tomorrow, and all the days after that, that the Lord blesses those who want to improve, who accept the need for commandments and try to keep them, who cherish Christlike virtues and strive to the best of their ability to acquire them. If you stumble in that pursuit, so does everyone; the Savior is there to help you keep going. If you fall, summon His strength. Call out like Alma, “O Jesus, … have mercy on me.”
The verse that Holland cites is Alma 36:18. To understand what mercy is all about in Mormonism, let’s consider the statements of other leaders, including what Holland said in the conference a year before:
That Atonement would achieve complete victory over physical death, unconditionally granting resurrection to every person who has been born or ever will be born into this world. Mercifully it would also provide forgiveness for the personal sins of all, from Adam to the end of the world, conditioned upon repentance and obedience to divine commandments (“Where Justice, Love, and Mercy Meet,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2015, p. 106, Emphasis mine).
According to Holland, mercy is “conditioned” on two things: repentance and obedience. He also said in that same conference:
Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, suffered, died, and rose from death in order that He could, like lightning in a summer storm, grasp us as we fall, hold us with His might, and through our obedience to His commandments, lift us to eternal life. (Emphasis mine)
According to Mormonism, general salvation (resurrection) is provided to everyone who was ever born. Individual salvation, also known as exaltation, is given to those who keep the commandments and endure to the end. Mercy is limited in what it can offer a person who hopes to attain eternal life. For instance, one LDS manual states:
Through the Atonement, Jesus Christ redeems all people from the effects of the Fall. All people who have ever lived on the earth and who ever will live on the earth will be resurrected and brought back into the presence of God to be judged (see 2 Nephi 2:5–10; Helaman 14:15–17). Through the Savior’s gift of mercy and redeeming grace, we will all receive the gift of immortality and live forever in glorified, resurrected bodies (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, 2004, p. 18).
Other leaders have said that mercy is something a person needs to earn. For example, Apostle Bruce R. McConkie stated,
All must repent to be free. All must obey to gain gospel blessings. All must keep the commandments to merit mercy (The Promised Messiah: The First Coming of Christ, p. 242. Emphasis mine).
He also said,
Rebellion leads to damnation. There is no mercy for those who know the will of God and who do not do it. “Wo unto him that has the law given,” Jacob said, “yea, that has all the commandments of God, like unto us, and that transgresseth them, and that wasteth the days of his probation, for awful is his state!” (2 Ne. 9:27)” (Mormon Doctrine, 1966, p. 619).
President Ezra Taft Benson explained,
We go to our chapels each week to worship the Lord and renew our covenants by partaking of the sacrament. We thereby promise to take His name upon us, to always remember Him, and keep all His commandments. Our agreement to keep all the commandments is our covenant with God. Only as we do this may we deserve His blessings and merit His mercy (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 442. Emphasis mine.).
Apostle Richard G. Scott gave a 2001 General Conference talk where he said:
Time and time again at funerals, statements are made that the deceased will inherit all blessings of celestial glory when that individual has in no way qualified by obtaining the necessary ordinances and by keeping the required covenants. That won’t happen. Such blessings can only be earned by meeting the Lord’s requirements. His mercy does not overcome the requirements of His law. They must be met (“First Things First,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2001, p. 9. Emphasis mine).
At the October 2006 general conference, Scott said,
The demands of justice for broken law can be satisfied through mercy, earned by your continual repentance and obedience to the laws of God. Such repentance and obedience are absolutely essential for the Atonement to work its complete miracle in your life (“The Atonement Can Secure Your Peace and Happiness,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2006, p. 42).
In October 2009, Apostle Dallin Oaks told a general conference audience:
Some seem to value God’s love because of their hope that His love is so great and so unconditional that it will mercifully excuse them from obeying His laws. In contrast, those who understand God’s plan for His children know that God’s laws are invariable, which is another great evidence of His love for His children. Mercy cannot rob justice, and those who obtain mercy “are those who have kept the covenant and observed the commandment” (D&C 54:6) (“Love and Law,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2009, pp. 26-27. Emphasis mine).
At the next fall’s conference, Apostle Dallin Oaks stated:
Because of what He accomplished by His atoning sacrifice, Jesus Christ has the power to prescribe the conditions we must fulfill to qualify for the blessings of His Atonement. That is why we have commandments and ordinances. That is why we make covenants. That is how we qualify for the promised blessings. They all come through the mercy and grace of the Holy One of Israel, “after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23) (“Two Lines of Communication,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2010, p. 84).
Current LDS prophet Thomas S. Monson stated,
Don’t put your eternal life at risk. Keep the commandments of God (“Preparation Brings Blessings,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2010, p. 66).
In the April 2016 conference—the same one where Holland gave his talk—W. Christopher Waddell, the second counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, said,
Truth is found in the simplicity of a Primary song: “Words of a prophet: Keep the commandments. In this there is safety and peace” (“A Pattern for Peace,” Ensign, May 2016, p. 92).
Visit the LDS website lds.org and you will see how the celestial kingdom is supposed to be the goal for a faithful Latter-day Saint; this can only be obtained through “a lifetime of righteousness.” In context, “mercy” is not intended to merely offer the best one has to offer:
The celestial kingdom is the highest of the three kingdoms of glory. Those in this kingdom will dwell forever in the presence of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. This should be your goal: to inherit celestial glory and to help others receive that great blessing as well. Such a goal is not achieved in one attempt; it is the result of a lifetime of righteousness and constancy of purpose. (Emphasis mine)
Traditionally, Mormonism has taught that covenants can be kept through commandment-keeping. Mercy cannot be expected for the asking. This is earned through good works, just as one earns a wage. Kimball described God’s “forgiveness” in a blunt fashion:
Your Heavenly Father has promised forgiveness upon total repentance and meeting all the requirements, but that forgiveness is not granted merely for the asking. There must be works—many works—and an all-out, total surrender, with a great humility and “a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” It depends upon you whether or not you are forgiven, and when. It could he weeks, it could he years, it could be centuries before that happy day when you have the positive assurance that the Lord has forgiven you. That depends on your humility your sincerity, your works, your attitudes (The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 324-325).
A Mormon can claim that The Miracle of Forgiveness is misleading and not even authoritative, as the woman in my earlier story insisted. But, again, the author (Kimball) was an apostle when he wrote this book and later became the thirteenth prophet. If we can’t trust Kimball, then how does she know Holland can be trusted?
While some are going to use Holland’s talk as a loophole to justify their inability to keep all the commandments, I wonder if this is really what he meant. Consider this possible summary to his talk:
Please remember that God blesses those who try to keep the commandments because they know how important they are. They give everything they have to keep them. However, there are times when we lose our footing on this path, just as everyone does. When that’s the case, call out for God’s mercy, who will provide you the strength to help you get back on the path and continue on your journey so you can keep the commandments you covenant to keep each week at the sacrament service.
Perhaps I’m wrong in my interpretation. If so, it would be good if he clarified his words sometime in the near future. If I am correct, though, then his ultimate message can’t be seen as changing the teachings of previous leaders. This idea is confirmed in his following words:
He will help you get back up. He will help you repent, repair, fix whatever you have to fix, and keep going. Soon enough you will have the success you seek.
Notice how he says, “soon enough you will have the success you seek.” In other words, God’s mercy will help a person get back on track and become successful (in keeping commandments) once again.
A final use of LDS scripture
Holland provides a final unique LDS passage (D&C 11) to support his point:
“As you desire of me so it shall be done unto you,” the Lord has declared. “… Put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously. … “… [Then] whatsoever you desire of me [in] righteousness, …you shall receive.”
Then he explains:
I love that doctrine! It says again and again that we are going to be blessed for our desire to do good, even as we actually strive to be so. And it reminds us that to qualify for those blessings, we must make certain we do not deny them to others: we are to deal justly, never unjustly, never unfairly; we are to walk humbly, never arrogantly, never pridefully; we are to judge righteously, never self-righteously, never unrighteously. My brothers and sisters, the first great commandment of all eternity is to love God with all of our heart, might, mind, and strength—that’s the first great commandment. But the first great truth of all eternity is that God loves us with all of His heart, might, mind, and strength. That love is the foundation stone of eternity, and it should be the foundation stone of our daily life. Indeed it is only with that reassurance burning in our soul that we can have the confidence to keep trying to improve, keep seeking forgiveness for our sins, and keep extending that grace to our neighbor.
Let’s consider the passage that Holland cites, D&C 11:8, 12, and 14. I would like to point out how the reader should always be skeptical of a citation that cites scattered verses and includes so many ellipses. As I read through this section, I was amazed how often the three words “keep my commandments” were used (verses 6, 9, 18, and 20), although Holland never cites any of them. He does refer to the “first great commandment” (love God with “all of our heart, might, mind, and strength”), but the passage never references this particular saying. Rather, verse 20 states, “Behold, this is your work, to keep my commandments, yea, with all your might, mind, and strength.” There is a difference between loving God with everything one has (Mark 12:31-32) and keeping commandments with everything one has. The two should not be equated. Thus, I’m not sure how Holland was able to conclude that “God loves us with all of His heart, might, mind, and strength” and how it is possible to “keep trying to improve, keep seeking forgiveness for our sins, and keep extending that grace…”
D&C 11 does not support the idea that a person gets “credit for trying.” Since none of the three passages he uses can support his point, it sure seems like Kimball’s statement on how “trying is not sufficient” holds more water than the idea that “credit” can somehow be given through trying.
Toward the end of his talk, Holland said,
So keep loving. Keep trying. Keep trusting. Keep believing. Keep growing. Heaven is cheering you on today, tomorrow, and forever.
This makes no sense whatsoever. “Keep loving”? “Keep trying”? “Keep trusting”? “Keep believing”? “Keep growing”? My question is, what about “keep doing”? (Of course, this would have defeated the purpose of encouraging his listeners, which he stated was his goal at the beginning of his talk.) The God of Mormonism seems more interested in the final result than in the process. To say that “heaven is cheering you on today, tomorrow, and forever” is poetic, but it is not accurate according to LDS teaching. When people are assigned to a kingdom, Mormon doctrine says that they will remain there permanently. If that’s the case and someone in the terrestrial or telestial kingdom is stuck there and barred from the celestial kingdom forever, then how can it be said that “heaven” is rooting these folks on? After all, God the Father will want nothing to do with anyone who doesn’t qualify for the celestial kingdom; it has been taught that he never visits or communicates with any soul other than the celestial kingdom.
While Holland is trying to give a restless membership reasons for hope, Mormonism remains a gospel that is impossible to be successful. It’s one thing for a Mormon leader to come up with quips and poetic language while attempting to appease his audience. It’s another to change what has been traditional Mormon thinking for many decades. In my opinion, giving the people what they want to hear without really making wholesale changes to the format of Mormonism causes more confusion than clarity.