December 27


Laws verses Principles

By Tresta Neil

Called to Learn, How to Homeschool, Key Pattern of Learning, Learning Pattern, Tresta's Story, Word Study

(written in 2012 for our co-op group)

“You are breaking the law when you cross over the double line, mom.” I heard my teenage daughter exclaim. “I had to or I would not have been able to get off at this exit.” I heard myself give a lame excuse. At the intersection I asked her if she knew the difference between a law and and rule or principle. She thought she knew and explained the traffic laws to me. After admitting I was wrong and that I should have been more alert and gotten out at the earlier dashed lines we proceeded to have a great discussion about the difference between principles and laws, true, natural laws.

True Natural Laws are dependable and constant they are not man made. Joseph Smith said, “God has made certain decrees which are fixed and immovable; for instance, God set the sun, the moon, and the stars in the heavens, and gave them their laws, conditions and bounds, which they cannot pass…they all move in perfect harmony in their sphere and order.” (Teaching of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg. 197)

Gravity is a natural law or a law of nature. It follows God’s decree perfectly, it can never change. You don’t have to believe in it. You don’t have to understand it. In fact, you don’t even have to like it. But you are still subject to it. Everything on this earth is subject to gravity. Suppose you choose not to believe in the law of gravity and that you are going to believe in positive thinking. So you go to the top of a building after you have prepared mentally, you believe with all your might and you step off. Once again gravity proves to be true and positive thinking didn’t work. Why? Isn’t positive thinking a true principle? Yes, but that is just it. It is a principle. Principles only work when applied in harmony with the Natural Laws.

In her book Hidden Treasures, Leslie Householder explains a law as “something absolute, something unbreakable, and something that just “is.” You cannot break a law; you can only break yourself against it. If you violate the law, you will most definitely be sorry you did, and unfortunately there is no mercy if you’re ignorant. The consequences will come, regardless of your understanding of the law.” (Leslie Householder, “Hidden Treasures,” pg. 15) Boyd K. Packer said it this way, “Laws govern the physical universe with such constancy and precision that once man has discovered them, he can, by their effect, demonstrate their existence with unfailing accuracy.” (Boyd K. Packer, “The Great Plan of Happiness”, BYU D&C Church History Symposium, 10 Aug 1993)

A principle on the other hand can be broken. It is a truth, a doctrinally based guideline for the righteous exercise of moral agency. Principles are subsets or components of broader gospel truths or doctrine. Principles provide direction. Richard G. Scott said, “principles are concentrated truth, packaged for application.” Principles are true throughout time and cultures. They answer the question “what?” Principles are NOT an action but often lead to an action.

Doctrines and principles work together with laws. Natural laws govern the universe, God never changes them and he lives by them himself. Just as our spirit and our body work together as a soul, principles and laws work together. The physical world and the spiritual world are interconnected. Monte Nyman and Charles Tate said, “There is law and order and precision in the universe that is awesome! What is physical interconnects with the spiritual; what is spiritual, or eternal, or moral resonates with the physical. We respond in our very souls to the order in the universe. How we respect those interconnections will have profound effect upon our happiness or sorrow.” (Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate, “Jacob through Words of Mormon: To Learn with Joy”, BYU Religious Studies Center, 1990, 15).

We live with the laws whether we know them or not but we can learn to work in harmony with them by choosing or taking action based on true doctrine and correct principles in harmony with the laws of the universe. My daughter, who now was completely in the conversation concluded with, “This act of working in harmony with the laws can only bring happiness and joy to our lives.”

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