Righteous Avarice

Domenico Fetti La Perle de grand prix (The Pearl of Great Price), Detail.

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey.

This week, we’ve come to the end of another General Conference. We’re closing out the April 1975 General Conference, and next week we will start with the October 1975 General Conference. Nine down; 175 (and counting) to go.

There were several really good talks this session, but there was one that really stood out for me, and that was Elder Neal A. Maxwell’s The Man of Christ. In 1975, Elder Maxwell was an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He wasn’t called as an apostle until 1981, the same year that I was born. He served in that position until his death in 2004. I’m sad to say that—although I was certainly old enough to have developed an appreciation for him by that time—I didn’t. I watched plenty of General Conferences, and sometimes individual talks had an impact on me, but I didn’t follow them closely to develop an appreciation for individual speakers over the course of years. And I’m sad, now, that I missed out on Elder Maxwell. I hope we get someone like him again, some day.

The problem I have in writing this post is that I basically just highlighted his entire talk. But if there’s one theme that I could pull out, it would be what I like to think of as righteous avarice. Righteous avarice is the refusal to pick and choose even from seemingly contradictory Gospel themes. It is the attitude that says, “I’m not sure how all of this fits together, but I intend to hold onto all of it anyway, until I figure it out.” Here, let me show you an example.

According to Elder Maxwell, the man of Christ “does not divorce the Sermon on the Mount from the sermon at Capernaum with its hard teachings which caused many to walk “no more with” Jesus.” Further:

He knows that “the gate of heaven is open unto all,” but that the Man of Galilee will finally judge each of us on the basis of a rigorous celestial theology, instead of the popular “no-fault theology” of this telestial world—for Jesus is the gatekeeper “and he employeth no servant there.”

There are plenty of people who will celebrate the cuddly aspects of Christ: turn the other cheek, do unto others, the Good Samaritan, but who will recoil from some of the harder messages that Christ also taught. They believe in a Savior who is not only gracious but also permissive, and forget that Christ also said things like, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword” or that “Lord of Hosts” (e.g. lord or armies) is also one of His appellations.

On the other hand, there are also people—a smaller number, I think, but an especially hardened lot—who are too enamored with brimstone and judgment and forget that God is a love.

This is the kind of contradiction that I’m talking about. How do we simultaneously believe in a God of love and a God of judgement? And to this, righteous avarice replies: I refuse to pick just one.

There is much, much more to take away from Elder Maxwell’s talk. I just picked a personal favorite. Go ahead and read it yourself, and I’m sure you’ll find your own gems.

Check out the other posts from the General Conference Odyssey this week and join our Facebook group to follow along!