We have all experienced the ear-numbing effects of a car pulling up next to us at the red light: windows down, stereo cranked up, foul lyrics spewing hate and the driver whiplashing himself into pop-culture paralysis. Have you ever reacted to such a driver with anger? In my natural-man moments I have imagined quietly exiting my vehicle, walking calmly up to the driver’s open window, and with a polite smile, producing a sledge hammer that silences the bad vibrations with one mighty whack to the offending boom box. But just as I imagine teaching some manners to a thoughtless person, I realize that the Savior would see beyond the guitar riffs and base-blasting rhythm to the soul of the individual. Admittedly, it is difficult for mere mortals to see beyond bad behavior while on the receiving end of a teeth-chattering car stereo. This is not to suggest that we should excuse bad behavior, but looking beyond behavior to a person’s heart is at the heart of love and discipleship. Such vision is the ultimate non-judgment.
President Uchtdorf reminded us in General Conference: “I am not suggesting that we accept sin or overlook evil...Nevertheless, in our zeal, we sometimes confuse sin with the sinner, and condemn too quickly and with too little compassion...Every person we meet is a VIP to our Heavenly Father” (President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “You Are My Hands,” Ensign, May, 2010).
While I don’t pretend to be a psychologist, I have noticed certain repeating patterns of conduct which stem from a common root. These patterns include everything from the attention-cry of tattoos or fashion, to addiction in all its permutations. These patterns are traceable to the same corrupt soil. By identifying the roots of bad behavior, it is easier to love unconditionally–to reach out and be a friend who lifts rather than loathes. For example, boom boxes, pornography and even drug addiction have at least one thing in common: the desire of a soul to feel better about itself. Thus, the natural man seeks diversion as a form of self-therapy. The drug addict needs the new high to change a depressing reality; the boom-box addict desires an escape to the controlled chaos of a better mood; and the slave to pornography finds in fantasy the mood-altering mask from the ugly face of self-confrontation.
When I was in high school, a common phrase of the day was this: If it feels good do it. This phrase was not new then and is not unique to the here and now, having failed in bankrupt experiments throughout human history. “If it feels good do it” is a pop-culture lie and one of Satan’s oldest and most effective tools. He uses it to lead people “carefully down to hell” (2 Ne. 28:21). Others, he lulls into “carnal security” which can “pacify” us through diversion. (Id). Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught: “Many individuals preoccupied by the cares of the world are not necessarily in transgression. But they certainly are in diversion and thus ‘waste the days of (their) probation’ (2 Ne. 9:27) (Neal A. Maxwell, “The Tugs and Pulls of the World,” Liahona, January, 2001).
The Adversary perfectly understands that seeking to feel better about ourselves through diversion or attention-getting is a form of “carnal security” (2 Ne. 28:21) that does not require the soul-stretching “mighty change of heart” spoken of by Alma. (see Alma 5:14). The halo of diversion need slip but a few inches to strangle us like a noose. The only cure for the natural man’s misdirected quest for carnal joy is to become a new creature in Christ. (see Cor. 5:17). Ironically, feeling better about ourselves in God’s way requires self-change; a change which flows from repentance and coming unto Christ. In effect, the “mighty change” requires not only repentance, but redirecting self-promotion to the outward rescue of others.
In a world without consequence, anything goes. By contrast, in the self-discipline of discipleship, anything which violates the trust Jesus offers us must go. Yet for the penitent, past behavior is not a permanent destination, only a detoured direction. The next time we bristle at the abrupt behavior of those who soothe their unhappiness in the world’s titillating hug, remember that Jesus extended his embrace to these same persons. He did so with true charity, where “perfect love casteth out fear” (1 Jn 4:18). Fear, like all feelings exploited by the Adversary, motivates so much of today’s bad behavior, but such feelings do not define the soul. They are a mask which the Lord can strip away in the warm exposure of love, friendship, and the trust so evident in the life Jesus led.