Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

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.

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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.

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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.

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* 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.

3 Responses to “Is It a Sin to Annoy God?”

  1. JKC said

    There seems to be an assumption here that a sin that is malum in se is evil because it harms someone. That seems to be a very utilitarian ethic, and I’m not sure that it’s the only way of looking at the question of what constitutes malum in se. Maybe something is malum in se just because it is wrong, even when it doesn’t harm anyone. For example, if I lie but I am not successful in actually deceiving anyone, then my lie hasn’t really caused any harm (I suppose that you could always say that lying is an exercise in self-deception and harms oneself, but I’m not sure that kind of self-harm is any different from the kind of self-harm that results from committing a malum prohibitum act), but I think most of us would agree that lying unsuccessfully is still sinful. It’s not a perfect example, but it makes the point. Maybe acts that are malum prohibitum are wrong not because of the harm they cause, but because they violate a pre-existing moral code. If God is the source of that moral code, then the distinction between malum prohibitum and malum in se collapses. But, if he is not the author of the moral code, but merely the revealer of a pre-existing code that is not “authored” in any particular sense, but is simply woven into the fabric of reality, then an act can be wrong in and of itself just because it is wrong, and not because it necessarily causes any particular harm.

    • BrianJ said

      Fair points, and I like where you end on the question of whether or not God is the author versus revealer of the moral code. (I believe the latter.) You’re absolutely right that my thoughts are based around the premise that “sin that is malum in se is evil because it harms someone”—at least, that’s what my question is about.

      But I’d like to address your example of lying unsuccessfully: the harm I see is that the person you tried to deceive now knows you are a deceiver. You broke down trust which, if you look at my last paragraph, would be harmful to any oneness you might have developed. Even if your lie was silent (e.g., you tried to send a libelous email, but the server crashed), you know what you did and so, yes, you still broke down trust, fostered a dishonest attitude, etc. In short, the harm may best be viewed not so much as directly hurting a person, but rather as directly impairing the ultimate goal of oneness (sorry, that sounds really corny), and that does hurt others. It is, after all, the most desirable above all fruits.

      I see this kind of harming oneself as fundamentally different from committing a malum prohibitum act: the malum prohibitum act is only “wrong” because we/God choose to make it wrong. We can’t un-choose to make a malum in se evil; it is evil whether we/God chooses to recognize it as such or not.

  2. Jim Siniscalchi said

    I found the lightness of this subject interesting and humorous and it gave me a chuckle.

    I tend to be a bit weighty in my writing and perhaps will need much more practice. I hope this will be seen in the spirit it was meant [good], to shed what little light I may upon this matter of annoying God. Although I may actually end up being annoying to some.

    I find it difficult to even begin to fathom the eternal mind of God and His understanding of what is really best for us and all mankind. When I think about how He gave us life and how easily that life can be taken from us, and how He formed this earth in which we live and all things that dwell herein, it brings me to a deep sense of my own nothingness and awe and reverence for deity.

    When a person ‘knowingly’ and ‘willfully’ is disobedient and breaks the laws of God that is sin. When one is ignorant of such law it is called transgression. All sin is a transgression, but not all transgression is sin [I know, this was real original].

    “I, the Lord God, planted the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and also the tree of knowledge of good and evil …
    “And I, the Lord God, commanded the man, saying: Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat,
    “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it, nevertheless, thou mayest choose for thyself, for it is given unto thee; but, remember that I forbid it, for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (Moses 3:9, 16–17.)

    The tree of life has much religious symbolism throughout antiquity.

    Sexual morality vs. a lie or other such minor sin [A good article to read is from Dallin H. Oaks, Sins and Mistakes, Oct. 1996], although both are wrong, not all sin and transgression is weighed or equally the same. A person can easily repent and be forgiven for a lie, but for sexual immorality there may be much greater consequences and a longer repentance period required. The use of priesthood (for those whom hold it) could be forfeited for a time or worse, excommunication.

    Drinking beer can impair one’s ability to reason and become euphoric which is a precursor to a greater sin, not to mention the physical deterioration of the mortal body [the temple of God for which ye are and for that, which is not our own], such as diseases. People who never heard of the word of wisdom may suffer for their mistakes, but may not necessarily be categorized a sinner.

    Sexual immorality has to do with laws that effect the very fabric of the eternal nature of family and which can have grave and devastating eternal consequences. It is significant that the father of all lies, even the very devil, he whom is called Satan, whom once was called Son of the morning, whom had lost his light and whom will forever, remain in darkness, would choose this to wage war against mankind and how it’s sacredness is rationalized away for that which will bring no lasting happiness.

    There are many promises of blessings & curses for disobedience and breaking the commandments of God throughout the scriptures, some listed are in Deuteronomy 28.

    “no commandment is based in malum prohibitum” while I too agree with this, it should be noted, some commandments can and have been changed; While everlasting to everlasting… unchangeable, are the laws of God.

    Here is one such a change in a commandment, Polygamy. Also, God once required and even commanded animal blood sacrifice for sin [Exodus 12], which is based on an eternal principle and law which pointed to Christ Jesus, as the way, and now we use bread & water as the sacrament to remember His great atoning sacrifice.

    He was teaching something of the great cost of sin, or in others words the great price that had to be paid for our sins, the greatest blood ever spilt, and the only way in which one can be washed clean was through Christ.

    We can find many of the particular intricacies of sacrificing of burnt offerings, peace offerings, guilt offerings and sin offerings that God commanded in Leviticus 17.

    Whether we live by a higher [obedience] or lower law [disobedience] to the laws of God we increase or diminish in spiritual light accordingly.

    A person cannot endure the presence of a far greater spiritual light than they have earned is a principal closely associated with being in the presence of a member of the Godhead. There are examples in the scriptures.

    Latter-Day Saints whom are a richly blessed people, it ought to be our greatest and deepest desire to walk a “Life of Holiness” and in all “Godliness” and become the living message to all, particularly, to our children, whom are the message for future generations, whom we shall never meet here in mortality.

    I hope this wasn’t an over-abundance of weight on this subject matter. I can’t help myself, you, and nobody else…smile.

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