The Covenant Path has become a favorite way for church leaders to refer to the way back home, to the Celestial Kingdom. Most recently this path was very clearly defined by Elder Christofferson in the last General Conference. The phrase is used extensively now, maybe even more frequently than Hastening the Work, which seems to be slowing down in usage.
I can certainly support making and keeping sacred covenants. But it is very easy to focus almost entirely on the covenants themselves to the exclusion of what the covenants point to.
There is a well-known story, among the Buddhists, of the Buddha pointing to the moon. His disciples end up focusing more on the Buddha’s finger than they did on the moon itself. Of course, they need to look at the finger to see the moon, but the finger is a mere pointer, it is not the moon. A person who mistakes the finger for the moon sees neither the real moon nor the finger.
So it is with our journey back home. Covenants point us where to go, but they are not themselves where we are going. Where they point to, in my opinion, is an utter transformation of our natures into Christlike beings.
Elder Christofferson’s talk alluded to becoming more Christlike and more loving as a result of keeping covenants, but these were really parenthetical references. The main thrust of the talk was the covenants themselves, and that the keeping of these covenants will help steer us clear of unwise choices that lead to more grief and less happiness. No argument there, of course. But there is a larger view.
We could think of the Covenant Path as the Iron Rod, and the Tree of Life as our destination. The institutional church itself is intimately tied up with the iron rod, and in fact it is the custodian, as it were, of the iron rod. So it is only natural that the church focusses on the iron rod. Not that the tree of life is ignored, it is perhaps just not seen as essential for the stage where most of us are, here in mortality. The tree of life is in the hereafter, in the great beyond.
What difference does it make? Maybe all the difference in the world. Covenants of course involve obedience. But obedience in and of itself is not the fruit we seek. The instructions for how to build a house are not the house. So yes, we have to follow the instructions to get that house, but the instructions by themselves don´t do much for us.
The iron rod/ covenants can lead us to becoming a Christlike person, or a Buddha for that matter. But just holding to the rod doesn’t get us there. We need be actively engaged in the theory and practice of charity, if we are to experience that kind of love. The iron rod keeps us away from harmful distractions, no doubt about it. But just holding on to the rod literally gets us nowhere. You have to move forward, and you have to have your eyes on the prize.
The Church is not without its opportunities for service, and thus engagement in the practice of charity. That has been a critical part of my life in the Church. But in terms of what has been taught in formal church settings during my life, my sense is that it has been much more focused on obedience and the keeping of covenants, than it is on obtaining the love of Christ. Which I think is unfortunate because our scriptures do have a lot to say about this love, and we could all be learning so much more. I could use a way bigger dose of it myself. A dose that could in fact help me to cross the straight and narrow path just a little more often, in the spirit of the J. Golden Kimball quote cited by Elder Christofferson.