Is It a Sin to Annoy God?
Posted by BrianJ on August 26, 2013
When I was about eight years old, I visited a radio station (in the middle of Nowhere, UT) with my father. I don’t remember why we went—he had some kind of business to do there. While there, I heard the station playing Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney’s number one hit “Ebony and Ivory.”
I don’t know if it was the unique atmosphere of hearing the radio while in a radio station, or just the fact that the song is catchy pop at its best, but I couldn’t get the song out of my head. Which also means that I couldn’t stop singing it. Which of course means that everyone at home had to keep hearing me sing it.
At dinner that night I was of course singing away: “…side by side on my piano keyboard, oh no, why don’t we-ee-ee-ee?” I don’t think my dad hated the song—it’s not his type of music, that’s certain, but he’s good at just ignoring things he doesn’t like. I am sure, however, that he hated hearing me sing it. Incessantly.
“No singing at the dinner table,” he announced, with all the authority of a finger writing on stone tablets. And thus, a new Rule had been established. It was now, and would be forever*, prohibited to sing at the dinner table.
Philosophers and lawyers distinguish between acts that are mala in se versus mala prohibita. I’m neither a philosopher nor lawyer, but I have to use those terms or else no one will take this post seriously and I will be banned from the Internet. The terms just distinguish between conduct that is wrong because it is evil (even if there were no law against it) and conduct that is unlawful only because there is a law against it.
Perhaps singing any song** a hundred times in one day constitutes an evil—but that wasn’t the rule. The rule was “No singing at the dinner table.” That has nothing to do with Wonder and McCartney: it applied to any and all songs. Clearly this rule existed simply because I had annoyed my dad with my singing.
My question is whether any of the commandments God issues stem from mala prohibita—acts that are wrong only because God says they are wrong. Not wrong because they harm someone else—murder, theft, gossip—or wrong because they put exaltation in jeopardy—selfishness, faithlessness—just wrong because they annoy God. The scriptures in many places mention “offending God.” Is this what is meant? And many times I hear fellow Mormons discuss sin in that way. Sex outside of marriage is evil because, well, it’s offensive to God? Repetitious prayers are bad because, you see, God finds them boring? Drinking beer is wicked because, well, God doesn’t like the way it smells?
Or is every commandment (or conversely, every sin) based on an actual harm to someone—mala in se? Sex outside of marriage is evil because, well, it messes with powerful emotions that are best reserved for the pair-bonding that should occur within marriage? Repetitious prayers are bad because, you see, you miss out on making a more meaningful connection to God? Drinking beer is wicked because, well, hmmm, okay I’m not really sure about this one.
I have come to define exaltation/eternal life as “becoming one with God.” And because he is completely devoted to everyone else, that entails becoming—or at least desiring to be—one with everyone else. Thus, it’s easiest for me to think of sin as “any act that impedes oneness.” Furthermore, an annoyed God just strikes me as petty. It should be obvious that I favor the second option above: no commandment is based in malum prohibitum. If you disagree, please explain.
* Well, at least until, like so many other family rules, we all gradually stopped observing it and our dad no longer cared to enforce it.
** Exceptions: Lamb Chop’s “The Song the Doesn’t End” need only be sung once to constitute an evil—and by definition, it has only been sung once (duh!). In contrast, Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin” can never be sung too much. True fact.
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