Christ in the Epistle to the Hebrews

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We read in Hebrews 1, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.” (Hebrews 1:1-4).

In these verses we learn that Christ was appointed heir of all things; He was “made so much better than the angels” and received a greater inheritance and more excellent name (i.e., God). If Christ was appointed heir, that means that at some point He was not heir. He grew into His inheritance.

From these verses we also learn that Jesus created the worlds (our earth plus other planets {we could also probably include moons and stars in there as worlds}) acting under the direction of the Father (“God…[spake] unto by his Son…by whom also he made the worlds.”). Heavenly Father created the worlds, but by His Son.

We also learn that God the Father and Jesus Christ look the same (“the express image of his person”) but are not the same individual. They are, however, completely unified in purpose and power.

In Hebrews 2 we learn some more about Christ: “But one in a certain place testified, saying, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him? Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands: Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” (Hebrews 2:6-10).

Christ was made “a little lower than the angels.” Wait, didn’t we just read previously that Christ was made “better than the angels”? We did. Christ was “a little lower than the angels” because He could die. He was mortal and died. Through His death, all death was conquered. Through His sacrifice, we have a way to return to Heavenly Father in glory. Through Christ’s atoning sacrifice, he received a crown of glory and honor and dominion. Through His atonement, Christ, “the captain of [our] salvation” was made perfect. What this means is that He was not perfect before this event (suffering, death, and resurrection). He was sinless and blameless but not perfected like unto His Father. However, He is perfect now.

What this all implies is that we can follow a similar path. We do not have to atone for our sins if we accept Christ’s atonement through faith and repentance and the ordinances of the restored gospel. We can become joint-heirs with Christ (see Romans 8:17). This means that just as Christ is perfect, we too can be made perfect through His atonement. We can become like Him.

From these two chapters we learn 1) that Christ is a distinct individual from the Father; 2) He created the worlds under the direction of God; 3) His perfection and Godhood were bestowed upon Him by His Father (i.e., perfection is a process) and were not who He was in the beginning; 4) we can receive of God’s glory like Christ did.

The Christianity of Mormons

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With two Mormons currently vying for a nomination as candidate for president of the United States of America and with a large public relations campaign by the LDS Church, there has been considerable focus on the church. Much of it has been informative (and largely neutral), some has been positive, but some has been negative. One particular charge made against Mormons by some (usually of a particular Protestant vein) is that Mormons are not Christian. We find this charge odd considering the name of the church – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – as well as of our belief that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. That is not enough for some people but I’ll not get into a discussion of why some people do not believe Mormons are Christian.

Regardless of what others claim about our Christianity (which in the end, is really a personal thing), we Mormons make a claim to historical Christianity that other Christians do not. Catholics make a claim of continuity from Peter. However, Mormons go beyond that. Our claim is one that others do not even think to make because it’s based on LDS theology that is unique. We do not just claim Christianity back to Christ but to a time long before then. We claim our religion, our Christianity, is a continuation from our life before we came to earth. Some of the specific practices in the LDS Church might not be a continuation of pre-mortal life but the priesthood authority is. Further, the doctrines are continuations of what was taught before we came to earth. In essence, much of our current Church organization and our doctrines are mirrors of what was and is done and taught in Heaven.

The fact that we lived with Heavenly Father before we came to earth might seem strange to many people but it is central to the gospel of Christ and LDS theology (which really are the same). Many do not think it strange to think that they will live forever more after this life but to think that we lived before this life is foreign to most people. Why is this? It stems in part from the creation story as found in the Bible. Over the years the understanding of the process of the creation was lost as was the understanding of our relationship to God. People started viewing humankind as creations of God rather than as sons and daughters. This means that many view people as no more than clay in God’s hands, rather than as His progeny. While it is true that we are God’s creations, our physical bodies are imbued with the bodies of our spirits. Together – body and spirit – we are in the likeness and image of God. We are more than just creations, we are His children with the potential to grow to become like Him. What a beautiful promise – the son, the daughter, can grow up to be like the father and mother!

I digressed in order to provide a foundation for the LDS claim to historical Christianity. We claim that our Christianity is pre-creedal. It pre-dates Christ’s mortal ministry. In the pre-earth life Heavenly Father presented a plan to all His children. It provided an opportunity for us to gain physical bodies and learn and grow to become more like Him. However, knowing that we would all fall short, God provided a means for us to return – through His Son Jesus Christ. This sacrifice was to be eternal and infinite so that it would help us overcome death and sin. All the prophets from the beginning of time taught this – the centrality of Christ. Even the Mosaic law pointed toward Christ but over time, the understanding of the role of Christ was lost. Jewish leaders changed the law. The Mosaic Law became an end to itself, rather than a means to Christ.

Christ came to earth to restore that which was lost – authority and organization and ordinances. However, following His death it did not take long for His authority and the truths of His gospel to be lost and changed. In the darkness of apostasy, committee replaced prophecy and revelation. Creeds and consensus counterfeited canon and calling. The scriptural canon was declared closed instead of continually expanding; it was closed for a time because God’s authority was lost but scripture was never meant to be God’s final word. God has always used prophets to declare His word. There have been times without prophets because of apostasy but we are no longer without living prophets. With the restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith, the canon burst open with radiant rays of truth. Once again there was authority on the earth. The truths of the gospel that had been lost or taken away were once again on the earth. The organization of the church was restored to what existed in the primitive church. The gospel was restored in fulness, including the ordinances and blessings of the temple:

“And verily I say unto you, let this house [the temple] be built unto my name, that I may reveal mine ordinances therein unto my people; for I deign to reveal unto my church things which have been kept hid from before the foundation of the world, things that pertain to the dispensation of the fulness of times” (Doctrine & Covenants 124: 40-41).

We are living in a time when things that have been hidden (not generally available to the world) from before the creation of the earth are now on earth. We Mormons claim a heritage that extends back an eternity and will continue for an eternity. Our Christianity dates from that established by our Heavenly Father in a life before this one. We have a heritage directly from God. This heritage is tied to the priesthood authority that God restored to Joseph Smith.

Gods of Science and Religion

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A recent opposing viewpoints article on the Wall Street Journal online pits “man” and God against each other in a verbose battle of words and ideas. The two authors wield their inky swords in a contest defending their theistic and atheistic ideals. However, there is no victor and no captive because their battle is not against each other; instead it is merely a clanging of swords and a rattling of shields in a feat of intimidation. Whose god will win? God of Christians or the god of science and evolution? [Note: please read the end of my post – I believe all truth comes from God, including the truths of science. Belief in God and belief in science are not mutually exclusive categories. Actually, I believe that with a belief in God that one can more fully understand and appreciate science, including its shortcomings].

The first author, Ms. Karen Armstrong argues from the theistic perspective. The second author, Dr. Richard Dawkins, argues from the atheistic perspective. It is a confrontation like that between Elijah and the priests of Baal but Dr. Dawkins’ god is not one of wood, stone, and gold but one of science and humanism. His is a dead god whereas Ms. Armstrong’s is a living God with real power (I’m certainly not calling Ms. Armstrong Elijah though!).

This is a religious blog and so I will only critique Dr. Dawkins’ arguments (and I am only really focusing on one particular part of his essay). That is my bias at this time. I am currently choosing not to critique Ms. Armstrong’s post. Dawkins wrote:

“What if the greatest show on earth [Darwinian evolution] is not the greatest show in the universe? What if there are life forms on other planets that have evolved so far beyond our level of intelligence and creativity that we should regard them as gods, were we ever so fortunate (or unfortunate?) as to meet them? Would they indeed be gods? Wouldn’t we be tempted to fall on our knees and worship them, as a medieval peasant might if suddenly confronted with such miracles as a Boeing 747, a mobile telephone or Google Earth? But, however god-like the aliens might seem, they would not be gods, and for one very important reason. They did not create the universe; it created them, just as it created us. Making the universe is the one thing no intelligence, however superhuman, could do, because an intelligence is complex—statistically improbable —and therefore had to emerge, by gradual degrees, from simpler beginnings: from a lifeless universe—the miracle-free zone that is physics.”

With this paragraph, Dr. Dawkins reveals his biases and short-sightedness. He gives a good example and asks a good question: What if there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe? What if life evolved to the point where those beings appeared god-like to us? Within Mormon theological tradition the answer to this question is, yes, there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. We claim that we here on earth are only some of God’s children. He has children on other planets who are also part of His Plan of Salvation. So for Latter-day Saints the question of life on other planets is moot. Further, God Himself dwells in a Celestial world, a physical place elsewhere in the universe (or multiverse in our dimensional space or a higher dimensional space; but that is speculation and is not the point of this article). There is a God dwelling elsewhere in the universe. Even Dawkins cannot definitively say “There is no God!” He can only state that he does not believe there is any supporting evidence for God.

Returning to Dr. Dawkins’ example: “But, however god-like the aliens might seem, they would not be gods, and for one very important reason. They did not create the universe; it created them, just as it created us.” This is where his example falls short and is limited by his atheism. He does not continue his example like he could with an evolved race of beings who developed to the point where they have all the attributes and characteristics we ascribe to God, even eternal life. They may have evolved to the point where they can in fact create life. We have scientists who try to, by experiment, recreate or encourage evolution in the lab. Some scientists are “forcing evolution” (see also this article) whereas others are trying to create new life. We have the curiosity and desire to create life. Surely, an evolved race of god-like beings would also have the desire to control and create life! It might be faulty logic to state that but on the other hand, to deny some beings some where at some time both the desires to create and the power to create, goes against evolutionary principles. Even as “statistically improbable” it may be, there is still that minute probability, according to Darwinian evolution.

At least one race might even have evolved the ability to create life and “drive” evolution. They might have evolved the ability to create entire worlds or universes. To deny this possibility from an evolutionary perspective is to limit evolution in such a manner that destroys its basic tenets. Placing this limit codifies and canonizes a limit that is not inherent to evolution. How can you argue that it is not possible for a god-like race to evolve god-like powers yet argue that we evolved from a lower state and will continue to evolve to a higher state (or at least something more fitting to survival will out-evolve us)? If there has not been “time enough” in our universe, why could there not have been enough time in a different universe (and then that race of god-like creatures – even just one of them – created our universe by acting in a way that “forced evolution” or even started it outright)?!

Dr. Dawkins stated: “Making the universe is the one thing no intelligence, however superhuman, could do, because an intelligence is complex—statistically improbable —and therefore had to emerge, by gradual degrees, from simpler beginnings: from a lifeless universe—the miracle-free zone that is physics.” With this statement he lets his atheism limit his argument (plus he equates Darwinian evolution with physics, which it is not). He does not believe there is a God so he cannot conceive that some being somewhere could create the universe using the power and knowledge of scientific principles to create life. “Darwinian evolution is the only process we know that is ultimately capable of generating anything as complicated as creative intelligences.” So in the end Dr. Dawkins is not atheistic after all! Yes, he might be traditionally atheistic but his god is evolution and science. Dr. Dawkins exhibits faith in his god of mathematics, physics, biology, Darwinian evolution, theory, and statistics. His god is changeable and not well-understood. Our understanding of evolution has changed significantly since the days of Darwin. As new evidence of evolution is discovered we modify the theory and laws of evolution to fit the new data. Such is science. One thing I’ve learned as a scientist is that the more I do science, the less sure I am about my results or data. That does not mean they are wrong but they might be. Science is wonderful but flawed too. We humans are also flawed as is our understanding of science. But we can have unshaken faith in and knowledge of God – a faith that is neither misplaced nor flawed.

In His beautiful and powerful intercessory prayer, Jesus said, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). Our goal, our purpose, in life is to know God and Jesus Christ. Dr. Dawkins does not know God. He does not even fully know his god of Darwinian evolution. He knows a lot about them but science and evolution are abstract principles and as such are immaterial (while founded upon the philosophy of materialism) and unknowable. Evolution raises as many questions as it answers. We do not fully know God either, but we can know God. God is material and knowable (fully in the next life). Even in this life we can know God with a greater surety than we can know science. God testifies to us through His prophets and through the Holy Ghost. Science has its prophets but it has no testator like the Holy Ghost. Science is great and powerful. I am not anti-science. I am a scientist. But more importantly I am a man of faith. True science and true religion have no conflict.

I do not fully understand how the earth was created but I know that it was by a loving Heavenly Father who did so in order for us to progress – to evolve – and become like Him as we are faithful to His laws and ordinances and through the grace of Christ.

Science and Religion: The Creation

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I do not generally write posts like this one but I had to comment about something I read today. Yesterday morning I saw a bumper sticker that had the following words: “Creationism is a product of the Christian Taliban.” The inflammatory comparison is obvious but the whole statement is ambiguous at best (i.e., if you ignore the spurious comparison, the statement – according to a very narrow definition of creationism – could be interpreted as true by some).

First, the idea that the earth was created by a supreme being or higher power is as old as religion itself (actually, it’s older than “religion”; besides, it is true). The broader term creationism simply refers to any idea that the earth was created. In this sense, that bumper sticker is blatantly wrong. However, the term creationism was not coined until the early 1900s, when conservative (fundamentalist) Christian groups started a major backlash against evolution (more accurately evolution as put forth by Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace, which had all animal life – man included – descended from a common ancestor like branches on a large blossoming tree of life). Today some people equate creationism with intelligent design. However, while intelligent design is a subset of creationism, the two are not exactly the same. In other words, all intelligent design is creationism but not all creationism is intelligent design. It is only in this very narrow interpretation of creationism that the bumper sticker could be viewed as true (again, completely ignoring the inflammatory conservative Christian / Taliban comparison).

This we do know – the earth was created by Jesus Christ. We do not fully understand the process by which He created the earth (and the “heavens”). We can glean a few golden kernels from the book of Abraham. As an example, here is a selection from the creation story:

“And the Gods set them in the expanse of the heavens, to give light upon the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to cause to divide the light from the darkness. And the Gods watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed. And it came to pass that it was from evening until morning that it was night; and it came to pass that it was from morning until evening that it was day; and it was the fourth time” (Abraham 4:17-19).

The first key point is that during the creation, “the Gods [a reference – at least – to the Godhead] watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed.” Those involved in the creation watched and were active in the process until what they had ordered obeyed (i.e., finished the process They started and maintained). The creation took time; a lot of time. In fact, that is the second key point from these verses: “it was the fourth time.” The creation did not occur in “days” it occurred in different periods of time. The Genesis rendering of the creation using the word “day” is not wrong because “day” can be used to reference a particular span of time – 24 hours on earth – or some other interval of time (e.g., a “work day”, which might consist of 8 hours or some other length of time and might occur during the day or night; or, another example is where “day” is used to reference an event and not necessarily an actual time: “the day of vengeance of our God” {Isaiah 61:2}).

At least some scientific explanations of the origin of the universe and the earth can be interpreted as being in harmony with the gospel (one example is the Big Bang but I will not explain here how that can be viewed as being in line with the gospel). I’ve found that the more I study science, the more I do science, or just about anything, the more I believe in God. Non-believers may balk at that statement but when I see the beauty of the brain or in mathematics or physics or nature, I, like Alma, believe that “all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator” (Alma 30:44).

In the end, that bumper sticker I saw is nothing but a cheap political shot at Christianity (ostensibly it is only a cheap shot against Christian fundamentalists who deny evolution but it really is an attack on Christianity in general). We do not understand the creation. We do not even understand science and anyone who places his or her trust completely in science (or, at least the preachings of scientists) really does not understand science. It is in God that we must place our trust. Whenever science and the gospel seem to clash, there are at least two explanations: the science is wrong (or at least partially wrong) or our understanding of the gospel (specifically, the extent of what has been revealed or our understanding of what has been revealed) is incomplete. Unlike science, the gospel is never wrong. So for me, if it ever really came down to a decision between science and the gospel, the gospel would always win.

Create!

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Here’s an uplifting message produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about how we all can create beautiful things in life. The words come from a talk Pres. Dieter F. Uchtdorf gave.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RhLlnq5yY7k]