I was asked about elimination of penalties in the temple ceremonies. It made me think of the following:
There was a general unease about the use of penalties. The solution was to eliminate them. Perhaps if temple goers were instructed in the value and the significance of the penalties, they would not have been uncomfortable with them. They may have even been kept in the endowment ceremony.
In an abstract way, God sending His Son to be killed is an idea that could cause unease. However, we’ve made a great effort to study the Lord’s sacrifice, to understand it and appreciate it. His sacrifice is not viewed as offensive, but rather as the source of gratitude, even awe, about what the Father and the Son were willing to do to rescue us from eternal disappointment.
Similarly, there are reasons to value, even cherish the penalties which were once a part of the temple rites. But not everyone considered their importance. A significant number of active saints just associated them with Masonic rituals, thought they were borrowed anyway, and never attributed anything more to them.
Old Testament covenant making was always associated with cutting. A marking, or cut, upon sacred clothing anciently also testified to the willingness to undergo a penalty if a vow or covenant with God was not fulfilled. God’s covenant with Abraham involved God swearing by His own life (for He could swear by nothing higher); the covenant being sealed by the divided carcases of sacrificed animals. (See Gen. 15: 8-21; Heb. 6: 13-15.) That great horror of darkness (Gen. 15: 12) was a revelation of outer darkness into which God would descend if He failed to keep the covenant. The burning lamp (Gen. 15: 17) which passed between the slaughtered, divided carcases was the Lord’s act sealing the covenant and swearing by His own life to fulfill all He promised to Abraham.
We may have lost respect and understanding, but that does not alter truth. Our loss of light does not make God’s brilliance any less. It just reduces our own association with, and understanding of Him. Today we seem pretty content to have others speak to God for us rather than to undertake the fearful responsibilities associated with coming into the presence of a living God. (Heb. 10: 31.)
And so we settle for inspirational ditties in lieu of doctrine.
Pleasantries in place of repentance.
Humor in place of sobriety.
We prefer our guides to be blind, because we think they hold onto the handrail better. Of course, when we proclaim them to be the handrail, it doesn’t matter what path they take any longer, does it?
We’ve become (or perhaps stayed) “too low, too mean, too vulgar” to claim we are the people of God –as Joseph Smith put it from Liberty Jail.
We’ll all arrive in Hell stained with deplorable sins of every magnitude but all with a good self image. The lessons there will be titled:
“Why Fire is Good for Us”
“Burning Shows God’s Love to Us”
“When We Feel Pain, We Get Gain”
“God Loves a Fiery People”
“Odds Are We’re All Glorious”
“Burning Will Keep Us Bright”
“The Fire Belongs to the Refiner”
“Fissile not Fizzle”
“We are the Refining and Becoming Refined”
I never took offense at the penalties. I regret their elimination. However, I attended the temple so often that they are indelibly etched into my mind. Even today, I cannot attend without walking through in my mind the remainder of the covenant. They assure me of the exactness expected of us when we enter into a covenant with God. I like that reminder. It helps me to hold myself up to scrutiny which I might not otherwise expect. Though I fail, it is not because I approach the altar of God with anything less than complete respect for Him and His ways. My own impurity cannot detract from His complete purity. My weakness does not limit His forgiveness and mercy. But I have never detected in Him the least particle of imperfection, darkness or unholiness.