The Great Heresy

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One of the doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that seems to offend the most people is one of the most amazing doctrines of the LDS Church. While there is plenty of Biblical support for the doctrine, it is most clear in the teachings of modern-day prophets. But first, let me tell a parable.

Many years ago there lived two kings. Both were goodly kings but both had differing styles of ruling. The first king had a large family and was growing old. Before he died he wanted to pass on his kingdom. His oldest son was a wise and just man who was ever faithful to the commands of his father. He was the obvious choice to inherit the kingdom. The king, however, loved all his children and wanted all to give them the same opportunities that the oldest son had. So the old king gathered his children together and proposed a plan. He told his children that if each of them could demonstrate their loyalty to him, like the oldest son had, then they each would inherit a kingdom. “I will give you everything that I have. I will even give unto you my title,” he told them. “We will expand the kingdom and give each of you a part equal to mine. There is plenty of space outside the bounds of my kingdom, enough space to support a kingdom for each of you. Because I love all of you, my sons and daughters, I want you to become like I am.” Some of the children made poor choices, lost their kingdoms, and were cast out; others were faithful and inherited their kingdoms. To this loving king, each child was precious and each could inherit what he had and become like him.

The second king was also a goodly man. He grew old and wanted to pass on his kingdom. However, he decreed that only the eldest child could inherit what he had. He gathered his children together and said, “I know I have called you my sons and daughters; I know that each of you is born in my image. However, only the eldest will inherit what I have. None of you will have what I have; you will be servants to me and to your elder brother. From henceforth you will no longer be sons and daughters; you will all be servants, at least those of you who are faithful to my decrees. Those who do not what I ask will be cast out.”

Is one of these kings more deserving of love? Is it really loving for the second king to keep his children as servants instead of heirs? Are they really their children if they cannot become like him? Now let’s suppose that the king is immortal but still wants to bless his children. The first will allow his children to become like him, the second will not. Which king then, is really good?

As a father I want my children to grow up and have all the opportunities that I had (and more!). Their growth and success will in no way diminish mine. My children are in my image (“my” being inclusive of my wife). They can grow up and become like I am.

If I plant an acorn and nurture it, I expect it to grow into an oak tree. A kitten will grow into a cat, it will not become an okapi or an emu. We are children of God and can grow up and become like Him. We don’t grow up into something else. Our glory will not be like God’s if we are unfaithful, but we at least will be co-eternal with Him. If we are faithful, we have been promised that we can become like Christ, and thus like our Heavenly Father.

This is a doctrine that receives a lot of animosity from many of those who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Why is this? Before I answer that, let’s look at the doctrine a little more closely as found in the scriptures.

There is no shortage of scripture verses both ancient and modern that establish that God is the Father of our spirits. I recognize that LDS doctrine differs from most other churches’ doctrines in the understanding of the nature of our spirits but  that’s only part of this broader doctrine. If God is the Father of our spirits, then we are His children. Father is not used metaphorically. Why would so many of the authors of the scriptures refer to God as our Father if they really did not mean it? I know that was an appeal to the majority fallacy (i.e., X number of people believe this so it must be true) but why, if we are not really God’s children, why is not He referred solely as Creator or Master or Potter or Shaper or Maker or something like that? Why is there the touching familial title of “Father”? Are we nothing more than God’s creations, made just to worship Him? Or, are we really His children with part of Him in us?

Now on to the scriptures.

Deuteronomy 14:1: “Ye are the children of the Lord your God”

Psalm 82:6: “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.”

Hosea 1:10: “Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered; and it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God.”

Matthew 5:48: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

Acts 17:29: “Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.”

Romans 8:16-17: “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.”

I want to comment on the verse in Romans. Could it be any more clear? “We are the children of God.” What does this mean? “If children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.” This is a simple syllogism.

All humankind are children of God.

All children of God are His heirs.

Therefore, all humankind are heirs of God.

There is a condition set on being an heir, namely, faithfulness to God (“suffer with [Christ]”) but it doesn’t change the simple logic and truth. What is an heir? It is “a person legally entitled to the property or rank of another on that person’s death” (Source). In the case of God, who cannot die, an heir is “a person legally entitled to the property or rank of another upon the bestowal of the property or rank at a set time.” As far as I can tell an heir has always meant that. Further, that particular verse of the New Testament is translated virtually identically across all major, reliable, Biblical translations; “heirs” is always used. There is no other word that describes what is meant. So right there we are told that we can inherit what Christ inherited. Christ is God’s Son and is God; if we can become like Christ, the logical implication is obvious. There is no usurping God’s power and authority, it is all divine investiture of His power and authority.

So, either the authors of the scriptures mean what they wrote, or they didn’t. If we actually are not God’s children, then why are we called His children? If we cannot inherit (notice – not usurp, just inherit; if you have infinity and give away infinity, you still have infinity), then why are we called heirs?

I know that some might argue that it’s not supposed to make sense because our ways are not God’s ways but that is the influence of Greek philosophy into the interpretation of Christian doctrine. We can know God, it was the Greeks who argued otherwise. This belief then crept into Christianity after the death of Christ’s original apostles. We can all know God, just as Christ pleaded in John 17.

So what is the great LDS heresy? We believe that we are spirit children of God and can become like Christ, and thus like our Father. We believe that through Christ’s Atonement we can be purified and then blessed with glory and power like unto Christ’s. We believe that it is God’s nature to bless His children so. For those who still balk at this, let me ask a question, “Does God not have the power to give us power and authority similar to His?” In other words, is God able to allow us to inherit what He has; does He have that power? If not, then is God not all powerful? Which God is more loving, one who makes creatures (us) to worship Him forever, or one who has children who can grow up through Christ’s Atonement and become like Him?

We are God’s children; he loves us and wants us to return to Him. He wants us to live worthily and partake of Christ’s Atonement and become joint heirs with Christ. Is this a great heresy? If it is, it’s one that prophets have taught from Biblical to modern times. Really the great heresy is not that LDS Church doctrine declares the theomorphic nature of humankind but that members of the LDS Church actually believe the doctrines contained in the scriptures.

Primary Sources

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In research it is generally thought that turning to primary sources is ideal, when possible. This means that we should read what people actually said or wrote instead of reading it through the interpretive lenses of other researchers or writers. This is not always possible, especially if the primary sources are in languages you cannot read, but it is best to go back to the original source as often as possible. What happens when you don’t? Untruths and misconceptions can develop and grow.

For example, in genealogical research, you always want to go to the primary sources if possible (also, read this post). FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com are not primary sources. If you don’t go to the primary sources, you really aren’t doing research, you are just compiling information together that might or might not be true. Start with the online databases but then try and verify everything in there by seeking out the primary sources.

As another example, there is a widespread belief that a majority of people in the Middle Ages believed that the earth was flat. This is merely a myth. Yes, there were some people who believed that but it was not widespread. Historians in the 1800s and early 1900s created the myth, which myth then spiraled out of control until it was taught as historical truth. The problem is that people trusted secondary and tertiary and other sources without actually going back to verify if what they read or heard was in fact true.

The same thing is true for discovering what people believe. Ask them. Don’t assume that you know what they believe. I’ve had a number of experiences where people have tried to tell me that my religious beliefs were different than what they really are. “You believe this and this.” “No I don’t.” “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” I don’t mind people telling me what I believe if it actually matches what I believe (e.g., “You believe that there is a Celestial Kingdom.” “Yes, I do.”). Of course, there are a lot of people who do not know what their churches’ doctrines are but that simply adds to my argument that people do not generally check primary sources. Sometimes they don’t even check secondary sources and simply remain in ignorance. A number of Christian churches spend Sunday School time studying the doctrines of other churches. I have yet to hear a good explanation of why they do this (especially in light of a general lack of knowledge of the Bible and other components of Christianity among most church goers). I’d like to be optimistic and state that the doctrines of the LDS Church are always correctly portrayed but I know that is not the case. If the pastors of these churches really wanted to increase the knowledge of members of the congregation, the pastor would encourage them to talk with members of the other churches and read their literature (e.g., The Book of Mormon, mormon.org, Gospel Principles, the Koran, the Watchtower). In other words, instead of learning about other religions people should learn from other religions. That is honesty in inquiry. This is the same standard that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints need to hold. If we don’t want people telling us what we believe, we shouldn’t tell them what they believe.

What primary sources do we have in the gospel? The answer might vary based on what you consider primary. I know some Christians believe the Bible to be a primary source. I’d disagree. The Bible is a collection of smaller books that weren’t even books until relatively recently. It is a translation of a copy of a copy (etc.) of the original document. In some cases it is a translation of a translation. I’m not saying the Bible is incorrect, I’m just pointing out that using a strict definition of primary source means that the Bible is not a primary source. What about the Book of Mormon? This is closer to a primary source than the Bible is. The Book of Mormon as we have it consists of two main parts: the first part was written by Nephi and his near righteous descendants; the second part is Mormon’s abridgment of many other writings with some additions by his son Moroni. So Mormon put most of the book together and Moroni finished it up and buried it. Moroni placed it in the ground with a dedicatory prayer of protection. Then about 1400 years later, Joseph Smith was guided to where the Book of Mormon was buried. It was then translated directly into English by the power of God. Thus, the Book of Mormon isn’t strictly a primary source either. It’s awfully close though.

I’m going to argue that the Doctrine and Covenants is not even a primary source, although it is as good as primary sources get in this life. So just what is a primary source? There is only one Ultimate Source for truth and knowledge. God is the giver of all Truth. If we want to know the truth of anything, we pray and ask Him (see Moroni 10:3-5). This goes for anything that we read in the scriptures or that we hear or read from the living prophet(s) – it can be verified by praying. That is how we check the primary source in the gospel. Now, I’m not saying that we try to supersede the scriptures or living prophets, but we need to do our own research and seek out the one true Primary Source. This can only happen as we ask sincerely with an honest heart. I’ve met at least one person who said they didn’t believe the Book of Mormon because they had prayed to ask if it was true and God told them it was false. Unfortunately, they were mistaken in their answer, assuming they had prayed about the Book of Mormon. I can also unequivocally state that this particular person did not ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, and with faith in Christ (see Moroni 10:4). It was like this person had performed a research literature search, found the article she wanted (e.g., a physics article), read a completely different article (e.g., an anthropology article), and then stated that she didn’t believe the physics article because of what she learned from the anthropology article. We need to read the scriptures, heed the living prophets, and pray to Heavenly Father that His Spirit might guide us and teach us Truth. As we seek the Primary Source of Truth, we will be blessed.

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.

One Word

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On Sunday in our Teacher’s quorum we talked about prayer. One point I tried to teach our Teachers is that God really does answer our prayers. The topic of prayer and answers to prayers leads naturally, at least for me and especially when teaching 14-15 year old boys, to the prophet Joseph Smith.

When Joseph was a preteen he starting thinking about the universe and the nature of God. He started seeking for truth. As he entered his teenage years he became surrounded by tumultuous teachings and preachings. A religious revival was underway – Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists were all preaching their gospels and vying for converts. Each minister had the same Bible (more or less) and each read the same verses but there was little agreement of key doctrines of the gospel (there still is little agreement). Joseph Smith was confused by all the controversy. If there was one Bible and one God, should not there be one gospel?

In order to sort out his confusion, Joseph did what the faithful have done throughout history – he sought the Lord in prayer. Joseph went into a grove of trees near to his home and knelt down in humble prayer. Joseph wanted to pray aloud, something he had not done before. But as soon as he started to pray he was attacked by a dark being; Satan himself tried to snuff the life out of the boy Joseph. This was one prayer Satan did not want uttered. Joseph felt the will to live flowing out of him; he started to despair but continued to pray in his heart. Then the darkness was gone and Joseph saw a light that was brighter than the sun. When this light rested upon him, Joseph saw two Beings – radiant, glorious, perfect Beings. Then came what was one of the most powerful words spoken in this dispensation – “Joseph” said one of the Beings.

The particular word “Joseph” was not what was powerful, the implications of the word were. With this simple word, Joseph’s name, the boy learned a powerful lesson, a lesson we all can learn. God loved Joseph Smith; God knew him. God loves each of us; He knows each of us by name. We are not faceless entities created to worship the Almighty God (although we should!), we are His children. He sees us with his perfect love. That is what the utterance of Joseph’s name taught – that God knows us; He hears our prayers and He answers them. Our prayers will likely never be answered in a similar manner as Joseph’s but our sincere prayers are heard and answered.

That is the lesson I wanted my Teachers to learn – they are loved of God. He knows each of their names and cares about their lives. Joseph Smith was a special person, he was called to be the Lord’s prophet but each of us are special too – we are all sons and daughters of God. While Joseph’s experience was powerful, each of us can know with the same power – the power of the Holy Ghost – of God’s love for us.

A Voice of Thunder – Part 2

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Now I will return to D&C; 110: “[We heard] the voice of Jehovah, saying: I am the first and the last; I am he who liveth, I am he who was slain; I am your advocate with the Father.” Jesus said that He is the first and last; He is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. What all these titles mean is that Jesus is the power behind the plan of salvation. He created the earth and all life upon it. Because of Jesus Christ are we able to return to God again. Abinadi taught that Jehovah Himself would come down and atone for our sins: “For behold, did not Moses prophesy unto them concerning the coming of the Messiah, and that God should redeem his people? Yea, and even all the prophets who have prophesied ever since the world began—have they not spoken more or less concerning these things? Have they not said that God himself should come down among the children of men, and take upon him the form of man, and go forth in mighty power upon the face of the earth? Yea, and have they not said also that he should bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, and that he, himself, should be oppressed and afflicted?” (Mosiah 13:33-35).

It is clear from these verses that Jesus is Jehovah – the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is the Creator. He is God. This does not mean that He is the same entity as His Father but Jesus is one with Heavenly Father in power and in glory. They are exactly alike in personality and power. Jesus is God because the Father declared Him so and gave Jesus the power and authority to act in His name. It is important to note that we worship God, usually in the name of Christ. We pray to Heavenly Father, not Jesus Christ. However, if we were in Christ’s presence like the Nephites were when Jesus appeared to them following His resurrection, it would not be inappropriate to pray to Jesus Christ. In 3 Nephi we read:

“15 And it came to pass that while the angels were ministering unto the disciples, behold, Jesus came and stood in the midst and ministered unto them.
  16 And it came to pass that he spake unto the multitude, and commanded them that they should kneel down again upon the earth, and also that his disciples should kneel down upon the earth.
  17 And it came to pass that when they had all knelt down upon the earth, he commanded his disciples that they should pray.
  18 And behold, they began to pray; and they did pray unto Jesus, calling him their Lord and their God.
  19 And it came to pass that Jesus departed out of the midst of them, and went a little way off from them and bowed himself to the earth, and he said:
  20 Father, I thank thee that thou hast given the Holy Ghost unto these whom I have chosen; and it is because of their belief in me that I have chosen them out of the world.
  21 Father, I pray thee that thou wilt give the Holy Ghost unto all them that shall believe in their words.
  22 Father, thou hast given them the Holy Ghost because they believe in me; and thou seest that they believe in me because thou hearest them, and they pray unto me; and they pray unto me because I am with them.
  23 And now Father, I pray unto thee for them, and also for all those who shall believe on their words, that they may believe in me, that I may be in them as thou, Father, art in me, that we may be one.” (3 Nephi 19:15-23).

The Nephites prayed to Jesus because He was there with them. While they did so, Jesus went and prayed to the Father for them, thanking Him for their faith. Jesus took no glory upon Himself in this case, He prayed to God and explained that the people praying to Him (Jesus) was a manifestation of their faith in Him. In any case, this is an exception. We are commanded to pray to God in the name of His son Jesus Christ. We do not pray to Jesus (but should He ever be here with us, it would not be wrong to do so).

I do not think any of us can really imagine what it would be like to see and hear the Savior. We can get tastes of the experience in the temple or whenever we feel the Spirit strongly but to actually be in Christ’s physical presence – what an experience that would be! We all lived with Him before this life so I think – assuming we are cleansed from sin – that it would be comfortable; it’s something we’ve experienced before, even if we do not remember it, and so experiencing His presence again could be comfortable but overwhelming, at least initially. I think of the Nephites who met and talked with the Savior after His resurrection – what a powerful experience! It was so powerful that generations of people passed away before wickedness took hold of the people. Oh, to stand in the presence of Jesus Christ!

To close I’ll quote from parts of an old English hymn with words by John Cennick that were modified by Charles Wesley. Its verbiage is not strictly in line with traditional LDS wording but I love the hopeful, expectant pleading of the hymn:

“Lo! He comes with clouds descending,
Once for favored sinners slain;
Thousand thousand saints attending,
Swell the triumph of His train:
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
God appears on earth to reign.

“Every eye shall now behold Him
Robed in dreadful majesty;
Those who set at naught and sold Him,
Pierced and nailed Him to the tree,
Deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
Shall the true Messiah see….

“The dear tokens of His passion
Still His dazzling body bears;
Cause of endless exultation
To His ransomed worshippers;
With what rapture, with what rapture, with what rapture
Gaze we on those glorious scars!

“Yea, Amen! let all adore Thee,
High on Thine eternal throne;
Savior, take the power and glory,
Claim the kingdom for Thine own;
O come quickly! O come quickly! O come quickly!
Everlasting God, come down!” (Source).

Some day all will hear the powerful voice of the Son of God. Some day all will hear the voice of the Father. We will return to their presence, either to stay or to be sent somewhere else. To stand in the presence of the Lord and to hear His voice and see His face is something that can give hope to us as we hike through the dusty canyons of our lives to reach the fountain of living waters.

Gospel Principles: The Nature of God

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Joseph Smith said, “We here observe that God is the only supreme governor and independent being in whom all fullness and perfection dwell; who is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient; without beginning of days or end of life; and that in him every good gift and every good principle dwell; and that he is the Father of lights; in him the principle of faith dwells independently, and he is the object in whom the faith of all other rational and accountable beings center for life and salvation.” (Lectures on Faith, Lecture Second).

As someone who saw God the Father and God’s Son Jesus Christ, Joseph was qualified in a way relatively few others were to talk about the nature of God. It is important to understand God’s nature so that our faith in Him is what it can and should be. Traditionally in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we refer to God as Heavenly Father, focusing on His Fatherhood, for we are His actual spirit children. Again, understanding the nature of God is important to our faith in Him.

Joseph Smith taught, “Let us here observe, that three things are necessary in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation. First, the idea that he actually exists. Secondly, a correct idea of his character, perfections, and attributes. Thirdly, an actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing is according to his will. For without an acquaintance with these three important facts, the faith of every rational being must be imperfect and unproductive; but with this understanding it can become perfect and fruitful, abounding in righteousness, unto the praise and glory of God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Lectures on Faith, Lecture Third).

Joseph Smith went on to write of the character of God: He was before the world was created, He is merciful and gracious, He changes not, He is truthful and cannot lie, He is no respecter of persons (meaning that “in every nation he that fears God and works righteousness is accepted of Him”; this means that He is “not a respecter of persons” insofar as those persons are righteous), and God is love.

Of the attributes of God the Prophet Joseph said that God has knowledge, faith (or power), justice, judgment, mercy, and truth. All study of the nature of God should increase our faith in Him.

On one bright spring morning in 1820 Joseph Smith, a 14 year old boy, went into a grove of trees near his home. As he knelt down in prayer he was attacked by the devil, who tried to stop Joseph’s prayer and end Joseph’s life. Suddenly a light appeared from heaven, dispelling the darkness and Satan. In the midst of this light appeared two beings, first one then shortly afterward, another. The first called Joseph by name and pointed to the other saying, “This is my Beloved Son, hear Him!” We do not know how long the visit lasted – it could have been a minute or many. In that short time Joseph learned more about the nature of God than had been known on earth for more than a thousand years. Joseph knew God the Father and Jesus Christ were two separate beings. He witnessed their glory and heard their voices. He viewed their countenances and knew that they knew him as an individual. They knew Joseph’s name. They cared for him and loved him as they do each of us. Of all the things that the Prophet Joseph did (and “Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it.”; D&C; 135:3), one of the greatest things he did was reveal unto the world the true nature of God.

Much of God’s nature is found in the Bible but over the years creeds and discussions and contentions led to distortions of people’s conceptions of God. We know that we are created in the image of God (see Genesis 1:26-27) but the added knowledge gained from the Book of Mormon (read, for example, about the experience the brother of Jared had when he saw the Lord on a mountain top: Ether 3:6-16), the Doctrine and Covenants (see D&C; 76), and the Pearl of Great Price (see Abraham 4:26-27, for example). Countless prophetic declarations since Joseph Smith’s day have further witnessed of what Joseph taught.

God created the universe. We know He did this through the power of His priesthood but beyond that we do not know how He did it. Was it created in the manner that science teaches? Maybe. Was it created in six 24 hour days? No (read in the book of Abraham for clarification: “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 4:18-19). God has all power yet He is not distant or disinterested in us. He knows us individually.

As we better understand God we will know of His love for us (see John 3:16), which love is manifest most strongly through His Beloved Son Jesus Christ (who is just like His Father; see John 14:6-9). As we feel God’s love we can continue to grow in faith and knowledge of Him. We can grow and progress to be like Him. He is our Father in Heaven and wants us to become like Him and to return to live with Him again.

False Temples – Part 3

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Are we building up false temples in our lives? Are we worshiping at unholy altars? Are we letting the good crowd out the best? Do we make even token sacrifices to gilded calves? What are we allowing in our lives to take precedence over the gospel and the things of God? Do we wander on side-roads when we should be traveling on God’s heavenly highway, which takes us to the temple and eternal life?
The prophet Isaiah wrote of God’s highway, “And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein.” (Isaiah 35:8).

This highway leads through the deserts: “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3); it leads to the exalted heights: “And I will make all my mountains a way, and my highways shall be exalted.” (Isaiah 49:11). On God’s exalted roads, we are in the path to peace; we are on the temple road, a road for the clean and holy. Those who wander on strange roads find themselves on the way to false temples and worshiping false gods – maybe not always on purpose but nonetheless worshiping at false altars.

Our worshiping in false temples could range from shirking church responsibilities to spending too much time pursuing work or recreation (or even family) that other necessary activities are left undone. Our worship of false gods could range from obsessively following the latest trends or technologies or celebrities to dishonoring the Sabbath day to worshiping the self. All that is good is not exalting and too much of a good thing can at times be damning. I do not mean to imply that all our focus should be on the gospel and family – although those should be our primary foci – we can and should spend time doing other things, like working to support a family or developing our talents or even taking some time to relax and enjoy ourselves. The problem occurs when our devotion to these other activities because religious to the point of interference with what matters most.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks spoke on this at a recent General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He said,

“A childhood experience introduced me to the idea that some choices are good but others are better. I lived for two years on a farm. We rarely went to town. Our Christmas shopping was done in the Sears, Roebuck catalog. I spent hours poring over its pages. For the rural families of that day, catalog pages were like the shopping mall or the Internet of our time.

Something about some displays of merchandise in the catalog fixed itself in my mind. There were three degrees of quality: good, better, and best. For example, some men’s shoes were labeled good ($1.84), some better ($2.98), and some best ($3.45).
As we consider various choices, we should remember that it is not enough that something is good. Other choices are better, and still others are best. Even though a particular choice is more costly, its far greater value may make it the best choice of all.

Consider how we use our time in the choices we make in viewing television, playing video games, surfing the Internet, or reading books or magazines. Of course it is good to view wholesome entertainment or to obtain interesting information. But not everything of that sort is worth the portion of our life we give to obtain it. Some things are better, and others are best. When the Lord told us to seek learning, He said, ‘Seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom’ (D&C; 88:118; emphasis added)” (Ensign, Nov. 2007).

Many things, people, and causes clamor for our attention. We can run around exhibiting a kind of attentional disorder trying to do everything (or conversely, doing far too little or focusing on far too narrow a thing) or we can wisely use and improve our time by choosing to spend the most effort on the best things. The kingdom of God and our Lord Jesus Christ come first, so does family (that is not contradictory to say that both God and family come first), everything else should fall somewhere on down the hierarchy of activities. Anything that takes away from the centrality of God and family (specifically family as God and Christ-centered) is a false god. We should work to purge this polytheism from our lives.

Good and Evil – Part 3

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Since the beginning, God has called prophets. The first man – Adam – was a prophet, a holy man of God, and one authorized to act in God’s name. Other prophets were called after Adam, men such as Enoch, whose city Zion fled, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses. Then came prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lehi, Alma, Mormon, and many others. Finally came the greatest prophet – John – and Jesus Christ. Jesus established His church after His resurrection with Peter as president and James and John as counselors. This establishment of the Lord’s church did not last long. The vineyard became corrupted and the priesthood authority and keys were taken from the earth. For about 1800 years, the Lord’s authority was not found on the earth (at least in the Old World; the priesthood lasted until about 400 AD in the Americas). One spring morning a boy sought an answer to a question about which church to join. He retired to a secluded grove of trees near his home and tried to pray vocally to God. As mentioned previously, Joseph’s prayer was interrupted by Satan, who sought to kill him. Joseph was saved by the appearance of God, the Father, and then Jesus Christ. They spoke with Joseph. He was called as the Lord’s prophet – a modern Abraham – father to a new dispensation. Over time, Joseph received the authority and keys necessary to administer the Lord’s affairs on earth through His church. Once again the Lord’s authority and church were found on the earth.

It has always been the Lord’s will and work to use prophets. Amos wrote, “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). This is the Lord’s pattern. Moroni wrote: “O all ye that have imagined up unto yourselves a god who can do no miracles, I would ask of you, have all these things passed, of which I have spoken? Has the end come yet? Behold I say unto you, Nay; and God has not ceased to be a God of miracles…. And if there were miracles wrought then, why has God ceased to be a God of miracles and yet be an unchangeable Being? And behold, I say unto you he changeth not; if so he would cease to be God; and he ceaseth not to be God, and is a God of miracles. And the reason why he ceaseth to do miracles among the children of men is because that they dwindle in unbelief, and depart from the right way, and know not the God in whom they should trust.” (Mormon 9:15, 19-20).

God is a God of miracles. God changes not. He appeared to Joseph Smith in our day just as He did to prophets of old. He does mighty wonders today, just as He did in ancient times.

For those who might not believe that we need prophets let me ask a hypothetical question. What if we needed someone like Noah today? Would God call someone to be a prophet or would he simply allow all of us, proverbially, to drown? Why if God called prophets in Biblical times would He not call them today? Do prophets become unnecessary with the times? We live in a modern society so there is no need for prophets? Did God speak all He needed to speak unto us in the past so there is no need for Him to reveal more to humankind?

I find all those explanations insufficient. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He continues to speak to prophets today. Their words and revelations provide direction and comfort. However, they are more than just comforters and tour guides – they hold the Lord’s priesthood and the keys that authorize the use of that priesthood. They administer the affairs of the Lord here on earth. They are in charge of His church and are responsible not just for the members of the church but also for all humankind. They are responsible to oversee and direct the missionary efforts of the church. They are as laborers in the vineyard or shepherds to a flock. The roles of prophets (and seers and revelators) and apostles are not honors taken by those with those responsibilities. All were called of God as was Aaron (see Hebrews 5:4). The honor and glory of the callings all belongs to God, for they direct His church.

Again I ask, what if the Lord needed to tell us something important today like He told the world through Noah or Jonah or Moses? Would He leave us to our own devices or would He call a prophet who would speak His words and do His work? I testify that God does speak to prophets today. He does not lead us without a guide. He does love us as much as He loved His children in ancient days. Satan is real and God is real. Prophets of God have been called to counter the prophets of Satan. The prophets of Satan are myriad, the prophets of God are few but the Lord’s prophets have His power and His authority. They direct His church, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Christ’s church is on the earth. We can know God’s will and plan for us by listening to His prophets.

Selected October 2009 General Conference Quotes and Thoughts – Saturday Afternoon Session

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Note: These are not necessarily direct quotes. Many times they are my paraphrasing and additional notes of what was said.
 

Elder Dallin H. OaksGod’s Love and Commandments

God’s love is shown in all the blessings of His gospel plan. God’s love should guide parents in their teachings.

Some people disbelieve eternal laws based on their own understanding of [what God should act like, or what His love should be like].

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son. He sent His son to suffer and die for us because He loves us so much!

God’s love is tied to His laws. It is not completely unconditional. Mercy cannot rob justice. Those who receive mercy are they who received the covenant and kept the commandment. God’s anger and wrath are part of His love. He wants us to become like Him and is displeased when we do not follow Him.

We obtain blessings from God based on obedience to His laws. Agency is fundamental to the plan that brings us to earth. God will bless us if we endure the poor choices of others but He will not stop them [most of the time].

Whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth.

The straying of our loved ones will detract from our happiness but should not from our love.

Elder Robert D. Hales – The Nature of God

Prophets and apostles testify of God.

Some people might be surprised that we look like God. Some theologians even think it is making a “graven image” to even picture God as looking like us. But God Himself said, “Let us make man in our own image and likeness.”

God has a face. He walks and talks. Enoch spoke with Him. God has a body with parts like ours. His glory and countenance are greater than the sun.

Joseph saw and talked with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Joseph’s was a special witness of God.

Korihor not only disbelieved in God but also ridiculed Him. He mocked the believers. Alma replied, “All things denote there is a God.”

Cultivate a diligent desire to know that God lives. This will lead to a softened heart. Most of us will not see God as the prophet has but the still small voice of the Holy Ghost will give us an undeniable knowledge that God lives.

With your own testimony of God you will be able to bless your family, your posterity, your friends, and many others.

Elder Neil L. Andersen – Repentance

The Savior’s arms are open and extended. They are arms of mercy and safety. They are lengthened all the day long, open unto us. God is He who comforts us.

When we sin we turn away from God. When we repent, we turn back unto God. The call to repent is a call to turn around and re-turn to God. It is a call to change and feel the happiness of keeping the commandments.

We each need to feel the arms of mercy through the repentance of our sins.

If it feels too difficult to change and if you feel if no one can understand what you are going through, the Savior understands. He will provide the strength to change.

Repentance becomes part of our daily lives. Partaking of the sacrament is a way to acknowledge our dependence upon the Lord.

The scriptures do not say that we will forget our forsaken sins in mortality but rather that the Lord will forget. [We should not, however, dwell to much upon our sins].

In this life it is never too late to repent.

Pres. Boyd K. Packer – Personal Revelation and Prayer

We are part of God’s great plan of happiness. There was a war in heaven where Satan rebelled against God.

We have been given agency and must use it wisely.

The Holy Ghost can communicate through the mind more than the physical senses. We might feel the promptings of the Spirit more than hear them.

Learn to pray. Pray often. Pray in your mind and heart. Pray on your knees. Prayer is your personal key to heaven.

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.