As Latter-day Saints, we often hear the phrase “looking beyond the mark”. This sometimes refers to Jacob 4:14 out of the Book of Mormon:
“But behold, the Jews were a stiffnecked people; and they despised the words of plainness, and killed the prophets, and sought for things that they could not understand. Wherefore, because of their blindness, which blindness came by looking beyond the mark, they must needs fall; for God hath taken away his plainness from them, and delivered unto them many things which they cannot understand, because they desired it. And because they desired it God hath done it that they may stumble.”
When does something constitute as looking beyond the mark and why is that important? There are three things to consider with this.
1. The Mark is Not Just Christ
Yes, the mark is Christ, but it’s not only Christ. One cannot be saved by faith without works. Keeping the mark in our sights is acknowledging all the things that go with the truth of the Savior and gaining a testimony of these facts. For instance the Atonement and how that fits into our lives, or understanding the repentance process. It is hoping, believing, knowing and then acting. The problem that arises from this, is that by gaining a testimony of the mark we can become entangled, measuring our efforts by tangible things which ultimately lead us to look beyond Christ. It is easier to think our salvation relies on our sabbath observance or how much food storage we have or how many times we attend the temple; because the other alternative requires patience and humility.
2. Looking Beyond the Mark to Justify Sinful Behavior
The scriptures say “(God) delivered unto them many things which they cannot understand because they desired it”
The Jews were not interested in simple doctrine, because they were “stiffnecked” instead of embracing the simplicity of the gospel they desired it to be complex and full of mystery.
Normal people were not able to read the Bible when it was written in Latin. They would rely on clergy to translate and explain the teachings. The Jews also wanted it to be complex so they would not be held accountable. This would allow them to continue to sin and distort the doctrine. The question we need to ask ourselves is how often do we do this? Do we make something more complex than it needs to be so we can justify not doing it? Do we justify not doing something the way we have been instructed to? If we are, then we are “looking beyond the mark.”
3. A “Holier than Thou” Attitude
We are all at different levels in the gospel, everyone in the Church is entitled to revelation, for themselves and their families. One of the things I love about the Church is that we have diversity and responsibility to make our own choices. This can become a problem when people become overzealous, overbearing and judgmental of others whom they deem to not be living up to what they perceive as the commandments. This can also cause the recipient of this attention to stumble. We all have different circumstances and we are all trying our best. What is right for one person may not be best for another. When this happens it’s probably wise to follow the council of Dieter F. Uchtdorf when he said, “Don’t judge me because I sin differently than you.”
How Can we Focus on The Mark?
The term “looking beyond the mark” is found in the Book of Mormon. As scripture written for our day, one would expect that we would take the council very seriously. We are constantly being reminded to keep things simple however. Part of the confusion is that not all things constitute “looking beyond the mark”. Indeed, we are advised that “the glory of God is intelligence” and that our purpose is to progress. There are many things that we can do to not look beyond the mark. Examples include gospel study, or wanting to increase your knowledge of a particular topic. Studying with the intention of seeking meaningful answers, and seeking God’s will are also ways to keep our eye on the mark. All of these things help us to center our lives around Christ.
It is also just as important to be aware of those things that are “looking beyond the mark.” Here are a few examples of that:
- Refusing to alter our course.
- Becoming stubborn and set in our ways.
- Unable to listen to council or another’s view point.
- Hardening our heart and refusing to listen to the still small voice.
- Filling our lives with things which outwardly appear spiritual while not really strengthening our faith in private.
- Clinging to distractions instead of following what the Savior wants us to do.
The only way to know if we are doing any of these things is to be truly honest with ourselves. That takes courage and effort. As we do this, we will become stronger in our faith, able to resist temptation and able to put off the natural man. As President Thomas S. Monson said “Effort is required, but it is effort you will never, ever regret.”