Afterimages of God

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There is a visual phenomenon called afterimage where when looking away from an object (typically a bright object such as a light bulb), there is an image that appears to float in front of the eyes. This image “burn in” is typically caused by an over-depletion of chemicals in the rods and cones of the eye (rhodopsin and color pigments, respectively). Normally, we compensate for this chemical depletion by rapidly and subtly moving the eyes around, changing where the fovea is focusing. Doing this gives the time for the pigments to replenish, allowing the rods and cones of the eye (warning: there is a video that auto-plays so turn down your speakers if needed) to work efficiently again.

To get an afterimage, stare at a lightbulb for a couple seconds (not the sun – that will damage your eyes) or  stare at some of the images here (note: that Wikipedia post about afterimages is lacking but the images are useful). Afterimages work essentially because when you consciously stare at an object with high contrast (luminosity or color), the rhodopsin and color pigments do not replenish quickly enough to allow all your retinal photoreceptors to fire effectively. This usually results in a negative afterimage (red becomes cyan, white becomes black, and so forth) but lightbulbs, for example, can create positive afterimages where the brightness of the filaments is still bright when you look away. In other words, when staring at such brightness, we continue to have that light before our eyes even when looking away.

Before we were born we all lived with our Father in Heaven. We basked in His radiance, we felt His glory and presence, and were filled with His light. We knew His Spirit and saw His burning glory. Joseph Smith said that this brightness and God’s glory were above that of the sun: “I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description” (JS-H 1:16-17). In another account of his First Vision, Joseph Smith stated that it appeared as if the trees surrounding the Father and the Son were on fire. This is why Isaiah stated that the Lord lives in “everlasting burnings” (Isa. 33:14). [As an aside, this is why the typical conceptualization of Hell as a hot place of “fire and brimstone” is misleading; yes, in the Book of Mormon we read of fire and brimstone (“And according to the power of justice, for justice cannot be denied, ye must go away into that lake of fire and brimstone, whose flames are unquenchable, and whose smoke ascendeth up forever and ever, which lake of fire and brimstone is endless torment.” {Jacob 6:10}) but that is because the punishment being meted for willful sin against God is God’s eternal punishment and His way to cleanse impurities is through fire (“For the day cometh that the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them who dwelleth thereon, by whom it is dressed, who now receiveth blessings from God, shall be cleansed with fire” {JST Hebrews 6:7}); those who are clean through the atoning blood of Christ and are sanctified therein can stand the fire of God’s glory, those who are not, will have to bear the cleansing of a scourge by fire but miss out on the sanctification that comes through the Atonement. Hell is really the separation from God, which means Hell is cold and dark and lonely.]

So, after that detour, we return to the track of this post. We all lived with God before our mortal births and partook of His glory and radiance. We are born through a veil of forgetfulness but the “afterimage” of God’s glory remains with us. I think the poet Wordsworth expressed it well when he wrote:

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature’s priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.

We are not left “utter[ly] naked.” We have the afterimage of our life before in the light of Christ given to all humankind and in the promptings of the Holy Ghost, which all people feel at some point but many do not recognize or are not willing to accept. As with visual afterimages, if we do not look to the Light, if we turn away from God in our sins and do not turn to face Him again in repentance, the light of Christ fades from our lives and we lose the spiritual afterimage that is our intimation of our immortality. It is imperative that we seek out this light and replenish Christ’s image in our lives.

The White Light of Exaltation

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A little child who is painting often likes to combine the colors together to make new colors. Sometimes this conglomeration of colors ends up a messy brown because so many colors were mixed together. This is a particular type of color mixing seemingly paradoxically called subtractive mixing. With these types of colors (e.g., paints or dyes) the more colors you add together, the darker the result (technically you only need cyan, yellow, and magenta to make black). In this case black is all the colors whereas white is none of the colors.

However, that is not how our eyes perceive visible light. The perception of visible light is based on the principle of additive mixing. With additive mixing, white is a combination of all the colors (the primary additive colors are red, green, and blue) and black is the absence of all colors. Or, in other words, black is the absence of light.

When studying the visual system, one is likely to come across optical illusions. One such such illusion is based on the principle of lateral inhibition, which is when surrounding ganglion retinal cells interfere with the actions of the most active cells (i.e., the cells that are in the fovea of the eye). Look at the image below (it’s called a Hermann grid) to get an idea of what I’m writing about. What do you notice?

Do you see the phantom black dots that appear in the white intersections in your visual periphery? They disappear when you try to look directly at them but return when you focus on a different intersection. The block dots do not exist; they are created by your visual system (one idea is that the surrounding black encroaches on {inhibits} the receptive fields that are responding to the white bars).

Now for the gospel application. When we focus intently on any one thing, it becomes hard to see things around us. This is good when our focus is God but not so good when our focus is not on Heavenly Father. Even more, sometimes if we are focusing on something too intently we start to see things in our spiritual periphery that are not there. These might be the proverbial motes in our neighbors’ eyes that appear when we focus only on ourselves. If we took the time to really look at our neighbors we might see that the motes we thought were there really are not present. Focusing on any one thing too much limits our ability to see “things as they really are.”

The prophet Jacob used those words in one of his sermons:

“Behold, my brethren, he that prophesieth, let him prophesy to the understanding of men; for the Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be; wherefore, these things are manifested unto us plainly, for the salvation of our souls. But behold, we are not witnesses alone in these things; for God also spake them unto prophets of old. 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.” (Jacob 4:13-14; emphasis added).

Looking beyond the mark, looking in the wrong place and with too much focus, results in spiritual blindness. This spiritual blindness leads to spiritual stumbles. What sort of things are we allowing to cloud our vision? Do you stand in the light or sit in the darkness?

As we draw nearer to God, we are filled with His light. This light adds color upon color of blessings and purification. The color of God’s Spirit is intensified through His grace and through our righteousness until we are filled with a perfect brightness. This perfect brightness does not come until we have received the Trinity of Colors – the Holy Ghost, Jesus our Savior, and our Eternal Father in Heaven. Through these Three Colors we can receive a fulness of glory and the white light of exaltation.

Puritanism Parallels with Mormonism: Preparation for the Restoration – Part 2

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Because of their beliefs, many Puritans viewed themselves as standing as examples to their neighbors – they felt they should be lights unto others. Many of these Puritans viewed their towns in the flat fields of eastern England as spiritual cities upon hills or as candles on candlesticks, a view they would carry with them to the New World. That’s a view that many Americans incorporated for America as a whole (based on Puritan influence). It’s a view members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hold of themselves and the church. We talk of raising an ensign to the nations; we have temples which are lights upon hills to all around. We believe our lives should be as lights unto others. Being a light unto others is not done in an attitude of condescension but rather as a solemn responsibility for fulfilling the sacred covenants we make as members of the LDS church. It is the beckoning call of, “Come, partake of milk and honey without cost.”

In addition to the Protestant feelings of many people in the eastern parts of England, anti-monarchical political feelings were also prevalent in that part of England. Numerous peasant uprisings occurred in eastern England. During the English Civil War, when many sought to reject the monarchy and establish a parliamentary government system, the strongest support came from that eastern part of England. These were people who sought not only religious freedom but also political freedom. This was an important desire that would eventually lead to the founding of the United States of America. Latter-day Saints, like the Puritans, had and have a strong desire for political freedoms (i.e., democracy). Even as the government of the United States failed to protect the persecuted Mormons in the 1830s and 1840s (and later), Latter-day Saints were some of the staunchest supporters of the government. We believe that the founding of the United States was inspired by God; prophets had preached about it thousands of years before (see 1 Nephi 13:17-19). The United States existed in part so that the Restoration of the gospel could occur – even so, the Church barely survived in this land of freedom (eventually they had to leave the country for a while to gain religious freedom). After the prophet Joseph’s assassination, some scorners of the prophet prophesied the demise of Mormonism. Yet the stone cut without hands did not and will not fail (see Daniel 2:34,45; D&C; 65:2). The Puritans helped loosen that rock from the mountainside.

When many Puritans started moving from England to the New World, they left largely as family units – more so than any other concurrent migration. Family was very important to these Puritans. They viewed marriage as a covenant relationship between two willing partners (i.e., marriages were typically not arranged). They had some of the highest marriage rates in the world – many towns in the 1600s had marriage rates of close to 100%. Husbands and wives “worked very hard at perfecting their relationship, in a mutual effort to achieve love and harmony within the household.” In addition, they also had a strong love of genealogy; they cared about their family names and their hearts were drawn to their ancestors. Their love and respect for family was strong – they viewed their families as part of the Abrahamic Covenant. The Puritans in Massachusetts also had very large families. In some communities over a span of years they had an average of almost 10 children per family! While many children died in infancy and in childhood, they still had many children survive. Family was important. Fathers also played a strong role in the raising and care of their children – they were very involved in their education, training, discipline, and care. Many of these are similar to LDS beliefs and practices about families.

Link to part 1 of this essay.

Reference

Fischer, D. H. (1989). Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

The Light of Truth – Part 4

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In this manner is intelligence, as used in the scriptures (as something that can grow and progress), quite different from how psychologists understand it (as something that is usually quite static), which is not necessarily wrong, just different. I briefly mentioned earlier a few ways people secularly define intelligence. One theory I particularly like is based around an underlying global construct of intelligence, referred to as Spearman’s g. This general intelligence can be quantified, assuming we understand all the components of it, by a single value. Why I like this theory is because it seems to fit with scriptural and prophetic references to intelligence, especially as found in the book of Abraham: “If there be two spirits, and one shall be more intelligent than the other” (Abraham 3:19).

This seems to mean that we all can be ranked according to our intelligence – there is someone less and more intelligent than you (unless you happen to be at the very bottom of the rung {or at the top but God is at the top}; even so, I don’t believe intelligence is limited to humans, so even the not brightest spirit has animals below him! However, as I stated before, one of the great blessings of the plan of salvation, of God’s plan for us, is that even the most humble intelligence can progress and grow and gain an intelligence like God’s according to the grace and mercy of God through Jesus Christ). Because we can be ranked according to our intelligence, a unitary measure of intelligence seems the most concise way of ranking; hence my affinity for the concept of g. Additionally, I like to simplify things as much as possible – simplicity is often beautiful.

I want to return to the concept of intelligence as the light of truth. Light is an interesting thing. It exhibits properties of both a particle and a wave. Light has a dual existence – the duality of the wave-particle. We too are dual beings – spirit and body (not that our spirits are waves or our bodies particles but we have dual existence). Light has a set speed in our universe – almost 300,000 kilometers per second. Light, as particles called photons, has energy. In fact, light is part of the equation of the relationship between energy and mass: E=mc^2. There are other physics equations that describe the properties of light waves and particles. They are not the focus of this essay.

Light is energy. It gives power and force. In fact, photons are what allow the electromagnetic force to work – they carry the force that binds molecules together. Without light, without photons, atoms could not stay together in molecules. Without photons, all creation could not exist in an ordered state. Light is a powerful force in the universe. When we learn that intelligence is the light of truth, we can change the words slightly to say that intelligence is the power of truth or the force of truth. Intelligence just might be part of the basic power of the universe. I believe that intelligence is light and light is intelligence! It’s no coincidence that we refer to people who are (or at least seem to be) more intelligent as bright.

I am grateful for a loving Father in Heaven who instituted a plan whereby all mankind might be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel and through the atoning blood of Christ. He blessed us with portions of His intelligence – His light – and mapped out the way for us to progress to the perfect day where we may gain intelligence like His. Regardless of our abilities at this stage of our lives, we can grown and learn and shine. We lived and learned before this life; we live and learn in this life; we will live and learn in the next life. I pray that we might strive to remember what we were taught before we came to this earth. I pray that we will remain true to our eternal selves – that part of us that came to earth “trailing clouds of glory” (Source). I pray that we might seek to improve upon our talents and intelligence, even if we were only given a little (see Matt. 25:14-30) so that our Father might say unto us, “Well done, good and faithful servants.”

Link to part 3 of this essay.

The Light of Truth – Part 3

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In the scriptures intelligence is often equated with knowledge, or at least knowledge comprises a significant portion of intelligence (as it does to some degree on modern intelligence tests). Joseph Smith stated that he “received instruction and intelligence” from Moroni each time Moroni appeared to him (see JS-H 1:54). In this instance intelligence implies knowledge but intelligence is not exactly the same as knowledge; I will demonstrate the difference in a little bit. First it is important to point out that Joseph received instruction – he was taught – and he received intelligence. Both were gifts given by Moroni.

We already know that intelligence is the light of truth (see D&C; 93:29). Notice that intelligence does not equal truth, intelligence is the light of truth. Elsewhere intelligence was referred to light and truth (see D&C; 93:36). I believe these are two slightly different uses of the word intelligence. The light of truth is like the light of Christ – the effects and power of the Holy Ghost given to all creatures that helps us understand right from wrong, within our spheres. Light is energy and power. Light gives power to truth – it is the power of truth. When intelligence is light and truth is truth that is edifying, clarifying, and powerful. It is superordinate to truth, meaning that truth, at least in this meaning of intelligence, is a subset of intelligence. Does this mean that there is truth without light? I believe so. There is truth in hell, there is truth in outer darkness, but there is not light.

We also learn more about intelligence from Joseph Smith: “Truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also” (D&C; 93:30). Intelligence is independent and able to act for itself within its sphere of existence. Intelligence has the independence of agency. This implies that there is some sort of life (even if it is not distinct from power) to intelligence (and truth!). This brings us back to Joseph receiving intelligence from Moroni. Joseph received light and truth; he received the light of truth. He did not just receive knowledge, although knowledge can be part of truth and intelligence (however not all knowledge is true or intelligent or good, which is why Joseph did not just receive knowledge but also intelligence). He gained more of the light of Christ. He gained more of the power of truth.

Link to part 2 of this essay.

Arise From the Dust And Be Men, Part 2

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The call to arise from the dust is a call to repentance. We should stand up when we fall. “Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me” (Micah 7:8). This is one of my favorite scriptures. I love the determination and the faith. I can picture a person sitting, huddled and afraid – lost in the darkness but praying for the Lord to illuminate the way. Then a bright light shines in the darkness, dispelling the encroaching blackness. As the light shines, the person comprehends it and is comforted by its presence. She stands up, ready to continue on her journey, strengthened by the light of the Lord.

“Verily I say unto you all: Arise and shine forth, that thy light may be a standard for the nations” (D&C; 115:5). Again the call to arise comes from the Lord. This time we are commanded to let our lights shine forth, like a lighthouse providing light to ships in stormy seas. Our lights can become standards for the nations. A standard has multiple meanings. One meaning is that of a guide, specifically a flag. In a military group the standard is the unit’s flag. The standard bearer is an important member of the unit (although, this was true more in the past than than currently). In a battle, troops rallied to the standard bearer who had the flag. He guided them to their destination. A standard can also be something against which other things are measured. For example, a particular set of expectations for performance or behavior can be a standard, or guide for other people. When we are commanded to arise and shine forth, we are called to be guides unto others; we receive a call to service and sacrifice and selflessness.

Elsewhere in the scriptures, arising from the dust is used to describe the resurrection: “Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead” (Isaiah 26:19). We can arise from the dust of death – spiritual and physical – and awaken into a new life.

This theme of arising from the dust is important enough that the Book of Mormon opens and closes with it. To be precise, most of the references pleading with people to arise from the dust are found in the book of 2nd Nephi, which is not the first book in the Book of Mormon but it is very near the beginning. At the very end of the Book of Mormon, Moroni brings back the theme as he wraps up his writing. “Awake, and arise from the dust, O Jerusalem; yea, and put on thy beautiful garments, O Daughter of Zion” (Moroni 10:31). It’s interesting how often arising from the dust and putting on beautiful garments go together. We shouldn’t just clean off the dust – we need to put on beautiful and clean clothing. The beautiful clothes we should put on are temple clothes, which among other things represent purity and holiness.

Link to part one of this essay.

A Sure Foundation, Part 3

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Before the vicissitudes and storms of life come upon you, it is important to be built upon a sure foundation. The Savior taught, “Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like: He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock” (Luke 6:48). When the rains and storms come, it is too late to build your house upon the rock; it needs to be done before the storms hit. When the rains and floods came in Noah’s day, it was too late for the people to start building their own arks. When the time for performance has come, the time for preparation has passed.

I’ll return to a scripture I quoted earlier. “And now I, Jacob, am led on by the Spirit unto prophesying; for I perceive by the workings of the Spirit which is in me, that by the stumbling of the Jews they will reject the stone upon which they might build and have safe foundation” (Jacob 4:15). Jacob continues, setting up his next great lesson, which is found in Jacob 5: “But behold, according to the scriptures, this stone shall become the great, and the last, and the only sure foundation, upon which the Jews can build. And now, my beloved, how is it possible that these, after having rejected the sure foundation, can ever build upon it, that it may become the head of their corner?” (Jacob 4:16-17).

Before I provide Jacob’s answer to that question I want to mention a couple things. The stone that Jacob writes about is the great, the last, and the only sure foundation that the Jews and that any of us can build upon. We live in a tumultuous time. Not only is marriage under attack by high divorce rates, cohabitation, and children born out of wedlock, but now it is under attack by those who would seek to redefine what constitutes a marriage. Friends strive against friends – there is hatred all around. People talk of justice, rights, fairness, and acceptance yet ignore and fight morality, religion, and God. The cacophony of clamoring voices is great; this “progressive” symphony of dissonance and din is full of nothing but tinkling cymbals and sounding brass (see 1 Cor. 13:1). Through the tumult, the confusion, and the strife, there is a single clarion call – a call to the one sure way, one sure foundation, and one sure stone! This stone is like a light bursting through the darkness, like the stones made by the brother of Jared that shone with the light of the Lord. This stone is the light of the First Vision, rending through the darkness of the ages, anchoring humankind to their sure foundation. We must never let go of this stone – our True Anchor – even though mobs may assemble and calumny may defame (see History of the Church, 4:540).

Link to part 2 of this essay.