Replies to Thomas

Month: October, 2014

Mother Earth: Eternal, Geographical Inheritance

Dear Joseph,

I can’t help but wonder if my insistence on trying to solve my mental dilemmas with God’s nature is just a by-product of having been raised to believe in him. My psyche can’t let go of something that has been so deeply-ingrained into it from such an early age. I look around to find His holiness at work and all I can see is that blessings and cursings seem to be scattered about all over the earth, independent of anyone’s religious tendency.

I feel like God ought to take more responsibility for the world He gave us and the people He populated it with.

“Faith is things which are hoped for and not seen.”

The missionaries and I talked briefly about what faith really means. I told them I’m not holding out for the clouds to part and ethereal light to descend from the Heavens before God Himself alights on a mountain top to proclaim the truth of His existence to me personally. If you have proof of something, that’s not faith, that’s knowledge. What I would like, what I think I am waiting for, is just a feeling, the awareness of some sort of connection to something—anything—when I pray. Then I can exercise my free agency and choose to have faith that it is God on the other end of that connection.

I was once certain I had the love of God and then when I reached out for it, it wasn’t there.

I’ve felt like God’s a general and I’m a soldier, but were of two different camps, and even though I’m not under his command, our two armies still fight the same foe. I feel like I can respect His position without feeling like I have to serve under Him.

For me, It’s the implied obligation and debt of servitude to God that causes so much of my anger and turmoil. Like that marathon runner analogy I wrote you before: just because He finished the race first shouldn’t mean I owe him my unflinching obedience.

—Thomas


Dear Thomas,

You have many seemingly scattered thoughts to address in your letter to me, but I think there’s a common thread I can touch upon that will help answer all of your questions at once. But first I need to quote you:

“… Blessings and cursings seem to be scattered about all over the earth, independent of anyone’s religious tendency.
“I feel like God ought to take more responsibility for the world He gave us and the people He populated it with.”

To our limited, mortal perspective, the world does seem to be in turmoil no matter where we look or what groups of people we look to. After all, God “sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). But part of the test of life, is not to see if God will take care of the world, but if we will. He gave dominion to Adam, and that responsibility passes to us (Psalm 8:6). We just happen to be failing miserably, and the earth, a living thing with a spirit, cannot abide our wickedness upon her face without herself revolting and dying.

Old Alexandrian notions of matter being evil led to the eventual loss of the original Christian teaching that God organized the world from unorganized matter that already existed (you remember my letter on the correct Hebrew of Genesis 1:1, right?). These same false notions thought that if God dwelt in “Heaven” it was necessarily high above the earth in a place free from the ‘evil’ matter of the earth. Hence Hell was seen as being even lower than the earth—deep down beneath it in an underground pit of fire, to be exact.

But this is simply not the case. The truth is much more ennobling and wonderful to comprehend: the earth herself is to become the abode of the celestial—the celestial kingdom, the third heaven, the greatest of mansions—whatever you would like to call it, it is the destiny of the earth to become such. This place where we now live is what some are destined to inherit (see Mathew 5:5, for example, where it is said that “the meek… shall inherit the earth;” see also Doctrine and Covenants 88:25-26, 130:9; and see Genesis 15:18-21 for an example of someone actually inheriting their portion in eternity).

The issue, then, is not for God to ‘take more responsibility for the world,’ but for us take the responsibility to tend and beautify it, like God, the eternal gardner, did when Eden was still upon its face. This is done both through physical care and spiritual righteousness.

When wickedness abounds upon the face of our planet, as it does now, she reels in pain. It is only a matter of time before our pollution (and I don’t mean just physical pollution, but spiritual pollution) causes the earth to act strangely and in a manner inconsistent with the predictions of science. The prophet Enoch saw the spirit of the earth mourn with sadness at the wickedness of man in his day:

“And it came to pass that Enoch looked upon the earth; and he heard a voice from the bowels thereof, saying: Wo, wo is me, the mother of men; I am pained, I am weary, because of the wickedness of my children. When shall I rest, and be cleansed from the filthiness which is gone forth out of me? When will my Creator sanctify me, that I may rest, and righteousness for a season abide upon my face?” (Moses 7:48).

What Enoch here observed was prior to the great flood of Noah’s day, an abnormal world event spurred by the wickedness of her ‘children.’ If in our day we look about for physical segregation of curses and blessings into geographical camps that delineate the location of false and true religions, respectively, then we will come up to the conclusion that all is for naught and no one religion contains the whole truth. But what would then be observed is not the lack of a people who worship the truth, but the result of great spiritual pollution blocking the light of Christ from nourishing the world so that even the righteous, who are themselves scattered about the globe, cannot be known by their crops and their sunshine.

Earth: “notwithstanding it shall die, it shall be quickened again… and the righteous shall inherit it.”

In dark times as these, the ability to recognize truth by one’s spiritual senses becomes paramount. As the prophet Brigham Young taught:

“… Man can be deceived by the sight of the natural eye, he can be deceived by the hearing of the ear, and by the touch of the hand;… he can be deceived in all of what is called the natural senses. But there is one thing in which he cannot be deceived. What is that? It is the operations of the Holy Ghost, the Spirit and power of God upon the creature. It teaches him of heavenly things; it directs him in the way of life; it affords him the key by which he can test the devices of man, and which recommends the things of God.”

You, Thomas, have been presented with the Gospel in its restored fulness. Many things in the world will appear to contradict its message and to testify that it is false. But you have a feeling heart, that is where you may sense the Spirit of God, and it is there that you must plant the seeds of belief (see Alma 32:27-34 and Matthew 13:1-23). It is not with the outward senses that you must judge the truthfulness of anything; instead, by the spirit of God you can “know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:5, emphasis added), including the nature of God, which you believe to be somewhat imperious.

Joseph Smith said, “It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God….” I believe you have every right to reach out to Him in faith and feel His love in return. Your expectations seem very level-headed, and your concept of faith versus knowledge (the former not requiring proof) is also very agreeable.

But faith contains a component often overlooked that goes beyond just the hope in the unseen: faith must also be in something that is true. The Book of Mormon phrases it thus: “Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true” (Alma 32:21, emphasis added). So I would posit that if you have not yet felt a connection to a being who you view as your ‘general,’ it is perhaps because there is no such being with whom you ought to be connected.

As an Apostle has noted:

“As soon as we learn the true relationship in which we stand toward God (namely, God is our Father, and we are His children), then at once prayer becomes natural and instinctive on our part…. Many of the so-called difficulties about prayer arise from forgetting this relationship. Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other” (Bible Dictionary, “Prayer”).

One of God’s true characteristics is that He does not imply an ‘obligation and debt of servitude’ to Him, as you say. If He wanted it, He should have sent us here without agency to get it; instead, He desires for His children to willfully choose Him as their Father (reread my letter to you about Satan’s alternative plan of coercion for our lives). If we will be ‘under’ God in eternity, it is simply in the way a son is under his father: it is nature and the one who came before paved the way for the one who came after.

To return to the marathon runner analogy, you said:

“… Just because He finished the race first shouldn’t mean I owe him my unflinching obedience.”

You’re right: our Father in Heaven did in fact run His race long, long ago, and we owe Him nothing for it—not even obedience. It is and always will be our choice to run the course after He shows us how. The fact that you are here on this earth, however, shows that you started the race already—and with the intention of finishing, I would imagine. In other words, It’s too late to consider if you will run the race; now you must consider if you will finish it. Unfortunately, neither you nor I can possibly run the race to the finish: we’re too weak on our own! This is where Jesus Christ comes into your incomplete picture. He is “the way… and no man [could possibly run the race back] unto the Father, but by [Him]” (John 14:6). We must take His name upon ourselves and follow the instructions He has provided (the Gospel) in order to successfully run the race.

Thus it is not the Father to whom you owe your unflinching obedience, but the Son, if you desire to be where God is.

To re-quote Joseph Smith, “It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God… and that He was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ Himself did.”

God’s earth, when He was a man like us, became His celestial abode because He pierced the smog of spiritual darkness that once presented Him with a choice: have faith in what is unseen yet true, or have faith in what is seen yet untrue. Likewise, this earth will become your celestial abode, as a joint-heir with Christ, if you too can see with spiritual eyes to a greater truth than what you have heretofore believed: God is your Heavenly Father and He loves you perfectly, and He is not a domineering, cigar-smoking authority figure who wants you to bend to his will.

Remember, “no man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24). You cannot pray to both a true God and a false one. You must plant the seed of belief of the former in the soil of your heart now: your eternal, geographical inheritance depends on it.

—Joseph

God, His Counsel, and His Councils

Dear Joseph,

The story of the blind man and his haunting adversary was very interesting to me. Because of my reluctance to share my story (frankly, most people would say I was dreaming or in a lucid dream state—which I most definitely was not), I haven’t come across others who have had similar experiences in whom I could trust as being as honest as I am about it all. So thank you for helping me feel a little less alone in the world.

But I have a nagging question I want to ask. Whenever pain and suffering or even death are present in our lives, we are told that this life is a mere moment compared to what awaits us after we leave it. It is, in essence, insignificant in the grand scheme. So then why, I would like to know, do the choices and actions we make and perform during this fleeting inconsequential blip in our existence have eternal consequences? This life is either important or it is not. It cannot be both.

When I asked this question to the missionaries, I used the book of Job as an example. God put out a hit on Job’s entire family just to win a bar bet with Satan. Oh, but he got another, bigger and better family after the whole terrifyingly callous affair was over. But Job will be with his family, both old and new, in Heaven. So no harm no foul.

No! Foul, I say. Exceedingly foul. Forcing Job to demonstrate his devotion to God in his life on Earth was so important it was worth murdering an entire family, while those people who were murdered for Job’s sake—their very lives—were not worth preserving?

—Thomas


Dear Thomas,

There is one particular point you must recognize: though a blip, this life is not insignificant. As you said, “either life is important or it’s not. It cannot be both.” And you’re right, it cannot be both; and it is, in fact, the former: important. (I wrote to you somewhat on this point already).

So you ask, “then why… do the choices and actions we make and perform during this fleeting [totally consequential] blip in our existence have eternal consequences?”

You, as an eternal being, have spent eons preparing to come to this earth to go through the experience of mortality. There was no sugar coating on the concept of mortality either; you knew full and well that this life was going to be fraught with all manner of difficulty; you were fully aware that your bread would come by the sweat of your brow; and, as I once wrote to you about supporting Christ before this life, you even understood and accepted that not every soul would be saved that would go through this experience. Despite all of that, you made the choice to come here and go through with it all. Why? Because you knew it would be worth it—worth giving mortality a shot in order to progress. Remember that in eternity there is no existence without opposition, and there is no progression without overcoming that opposition, and where it is overcome there is faith.

Do not doubt it: you and I and Christ and every other person came here to face and overcome opposition—to go from grace to grace in faith.

If you overcome it, if you prize the good of life, you will be crowned with glory hereafter with Christ. The general vicissitudes of life are inherent by the nature of our fallen bodies and so we all will face opposition, an opposition that is common to all mankind (1 Corinthians 10:13), and even Christ—the only perfect one of us—was not exempt from this opposition because He—just like us—was born into the weakness of mortality:

“[…] Inasmuch as… children are conceived in sin, even so when they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts, and they taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good.
“And it is given unto them to know good from evil; wherefore they are agents unto themselves…” (Moses 6:55-56).

As C.S. Lewis so eloquently put it:

“[…] You find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later…. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means—the only complete realist.”

So, this life is full of imperfections and weaknesses that we must struggle with and ultimately overcome if we are to inherit “bodies celestial” (1 Corinthians 15:40). As you stand against the winds of life, and though your body perisheth away, your spirit will increase in glory. And it is precisely that glory—the glory that quickens your spirit—that will determine what body you will receive in the resurrection and what kingdom you will inherit (see Doctrine and Covenants 88:28-29).

Can you begin to see why the choices in this life are of great consequence eternally? When someone tells you that pain and death a suffering are but a brief moment in eternity, it is not meant to de-emphasize the importance of this life; it is meant to give hope that things will not always be this brutal; they are reminding you that this life takes place in the Telestial state—the bottom of the eternal bucket (as I have written before).

You said another interesting thing that I want to address:

“God put out a hit on Job’s entire family just to win a bar bet with Satan…. [So] forcing Job to demonstrate his devotion to God in his life on Earth was so important it was worth murdering an entire family, while those people who were murdered for Job’s sake—their very lives—were not worth preserving?”

For the sake of time, I am simply going to lay down a few principles to help you better understand Job. I do this with the full expectation that you may very well have more questions to ask when I’m through here.

First of all, God was not having a bar bet with Satan (though I recognize that you put a bit of intentional humor in there). What is happening is a very sacred event that often precedes the testing of a called individual.

“Faith is things which are hoped for and not seen.”

“Testing?” you may ask. “Isn’t this life already a test by itself?”

Yes, it is. But the nature of this test is that as you climb the ladder of spiritual glory (recall standing ‘against the winds of life’), the test intensifies—greater and greater sacrifices are required as greater and greater glory is obtained, going from grace to grace (I wrote briefly on these “levels” in my last letter to you; also, see Doctrine and Covenants 93:11-14,19-20). And the things that such a person will be called to pass through could aptly be called a test within the test of life itself.

Hence life itself is hard by the nature of our desire to gain a body to become more like God and what that takes, but life gets harder (for lack of a better term) the closer you want to be to God in his glory. This is why when Jesus was upon the Earth, He was bitterly opposed by Satan and men. It is also why when Joseph Smith restored the Gospel in its fulness, he was bitterly persecuted in like manner. It is how you can identify the truth upon this wicked world—it is despised.

You may notice this yourself as you have been approached with the truth of the Gospel: greater joy than you have before known is offered you but it requires a sacrifice at your hands to obtain it. It may be the sacrifice of the respect of your family members who disapprove of your choice to become a Mormon. It may be the sacrifice of keeping the commandments such as obtaining from your favorite alcohols and not working on Sundays resulting in a pay cut, etc. After joining the church, you will want to be sealed to your family for eternity and the journey to get your family to the point where you can all go to the temple may require additional sacrifice and the overcoming of additional opposition. (Often times, though those things are put on the personal altar of sacrifice, they are returned to us in a better form: new found refreshment from water, a more understanding family, a better paying job, etc.) But again, it all comes down to overcoming opposition. As Joseph Smith taught:

“It is in vain for persons to fancy to themselves that they are heirs with those, or can be heirs with them, who have offered their all in sacrifice… unless they in like manner offer unto him the same sacrifice…” (Lectures on Faith 6:8).

So good old Job desired greater blessings of salvation and exaltation. When such a things happens, God calls together a heavenly council to discuss the progression of the individual and how his desire should be proved. In this case, as the meeting was being held Old Scratch came along to add his two cents and the council let him speak. As with any test of this life, God’s purpose in testing Job was to prove that Job would do all things that God had or would command (see Abraham 3:25), and so the devil’s role became one of the destroying angel sent to afflict Job to the bounds God had modified for the test (go read again for yourself; the council and all of this is fairly plain to read in Job 1:6-12).

(You see, Satan is usually bound in such a manner so as to not be able to afflict us beyond that which our cursings allow, those things that naturally stem from sin, but for the purpose of Job’s progression God changed the bounds.)

But an issue here is that Job’s family perished in the course of this test. That seems to disregard their tests of mortality, or at the very least puts theirs below Job’s in terms of importance. But this is simply a conclusion drawn of incomplete facts. When we have things that are true that appear to be contrary, we are simply missing a third truth. If it is true that this life is a test for each of us, and it is true that some people die to fulfill the measure of another’s test, then by what truth can we conclude that the testing of those who had prematurely perished was completed to the degree they desired or required?

I wrote to you already about those who are taken from us early in life, how they are purer than we are, but do you recall where that purity came from? The preexistence. There were those of us who made covenants and had the faith at that stage to forego the full vicissitudes of mortal life. And yet the fact that they were given a tabernacle of flesh and bone by a mother and a father means that they will come forth in the resurrection of the dead, clothed in glory immortal as our Heavenly Father now has. In other words, they stood against the wind of opposition to a degree many did not and had their spirits quickened before this life was and their covenants did not include having to perform a mission on this earth with their physical presence (there are other pure ones who have a mission to fulfill; Christ was the purest of all, yet He had a mission he had to fulfill physically).

So in the case of Job’s family, “what shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid” (Romans 9:14). They were either pure enough to be through with the test or sufficiently tested themselves according to their desires. Probably most importantly, they were sealed to the man who himself proved faithful to the end who would go on to receive his exaltation with God, exalting his family with him.

So your citation of Job as an example of someone who just had to be patient in order to wait out the troubles of this short life, which resulted in receiving a bigger and better family, is incorrect. Job’s life as a whole is not a story with a simple moral about the insignificance of the suffering life puts us through; it is the story of a man called of God to offer a sacrifice in righteousness made up of his own will and fortune that he might give his family more eternally. it is archetypical of the the wind of opposition which all the joint-heirs of Christ must pass through to be crowned with the highest of Celestial glory.

I believe that you can put it down as a principle: when a man or woman is obedient and true to God, and the winds of opposition are whipped up about them, there is a purpose and a progression to be had if they are faithful to God, His Counsel, and His councils. And it is only after you have passed or failed the council’s test that its true nature may be revealed, for, as the scripture says, “ye receive no witness until after the trial of your [faithfulness]” (Ether 12:6, emphasis added).

—Joseph