Replies to Thomas

Month: November, 2014

The Postman

Dear Joseph,

I haven’t been able to devote as much time as I’d like towards reinterpreting my world view, as you’ve suggested. I mean, I find it hard to be grateful for things in my life when I’ve spent so much time waiting for things to be grateful for and instead have received things I believe manifestations of either God’s lack of care or God’s lack of existence.

I feel like I maybe I could better appreciate praying to Jesus instead of the father because I know something about him—he’s just more relatable. You know, there’s a whole book out there about him called The Bible. You’d think the father of our spirits would make more than a couple casual cameo appearances in there. Sounds like another thing to be “thankful” for.

—Thomas


Dear Thomas,

I want to address the important concept of the Godhead in a way that I think will help you more fully and appropriately approach the Father. I’ve already written to you about the fact that God, our Heavenly Father, is a real person—a being of flesh and bones. But with that said, it’s important to note what else He is and what else He is not: He is a man, a human, like you and I, but enthroned in glory; He is not the Son or the Holy Spirit, two other separate individuals.

By way of analogy, let’s say that you are a farmer in the middle ages (perhaps not a pleasant thought). The Father, then, is like the king in the castle, the Son is like the postman who goes between your home and the castle, and the Holy Spirit is like the town crier (this is a fairly loose analogy). As you can see, these are obviously three separate individuals, yet their duties and roles are complementary and their mindset is perfectly unified. As one, they flawlessly represent the king.

Now, I would be surprised if the bodily separateness of the godhead wasn’t one of the first things the missionaries taught you when you first began meeting. So why do I bring it up now? Let me ask another question to lead up to that answer. Why do we pray to the Father yet go to a church named after His Son? Wouldn’t it make more sense to go to the church of the Father since he’s ‘the king’ of the castle? It may serve to make Him more ‘relatable,’ right? The saints in America during the time just following Christ’s resurrection asked a similar question:

“And [the disciples] said unto him: Lord, we will that thou wouldst tell us the name whereby we shall call this church; for there are disputations among the people concerning this matter.
“And the Lord said unto them: Verily, verily, I say unto you, why is it that the people should murmur and dispute because of this thing?
“Have they not read the scriptures, which say ye must take upon you the name of Christ, which is my name? For by this name shall ye be called at the last day; […]
“And how be it my church save it be called in my name? For if a church be called in Moses’ name then it be Moses’ church; or if it be called in the name of a man then it be the church of a man; but if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel. […]
“And if it so be that the church is built upon my gospel then will the Father show forth his own works in it” (3 Nephi 27:3-5,8,10, emphasis added).

I’m not pretending to have received revelation on the specifics of the so-called ‘disputations’ that these people faced concerning the naming of the ancient church, but I have a hunch based on the last verse I quoted up there: the people then, as now, were taught to pray to the Father for all things as the giver of life and blessings—and they were taught these things by none other than The Son of God, Himself—”So,” they thought, “maybe the church should be the church of the Father, you know, because it’s Him we’re being taught to seek after in our communications with Heaven after all.”

But, as the scripture above shows, The Lord says that the church He established is clearly not the Father’s church but Christ’s church, so call it after His name. Hence we have The Church of Jesus Christ established originally and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints re-established in, as the name says, the latter days. But that doesn’t answer the burning question:

If our prayers are like letters addressed to the king, why do we worship the postman?

“…I come quickly; and my reward is with me…” (Doctrine and Covenants 112:34).

Universally throughout the scriptures, when a revelation (a return letter) was received by a prophet, it was curiously signed by the postman and not the king. For example, in the Doctrine and Covenants, the book of scripture that accounts the revelations of God to the newly restored church in the prophet Joseph Smith’s day, there are at least eleven instances wherein a revelation includes the identifying phrase of the sender of the answer, “I am Jesus Christ.” In the Book of Mormon and the Bible there are similar examples. But despite the postman signing return letters in behalf of the king, He insists that we continue to address the letters directly to the king:

“After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
“For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen” (3 Nephi 13:9-13, which is similar to Matthew 6:9-13, emphasis added).

The point is that the scriptures make it abundantly clear that the postman wants us to write to the king, just as the postman himself does. In fact, whatever we do should be done as just as the postman himself does (see 3 Nephi 27:7, and 27). Why should this be? Because the postman is the only person in the kingdom who knows how to get into the castle, what the scriptures call receiving of the “fullness” of the Father.

“Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?
“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”
“And I, John, bear record that I beheld his glory, as the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, even the Spirit of truth, which came and dwelt in the flesh, and dwelt among us.
“And I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace;
“And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness;
“And thus he was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first. […]
“I give unto you these sayings that you may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship, that you may come unto the Father in my name, and in due time receive of his fulness” (John 14:5-6; Doctrine and Covenants 93:11-14,19, emphasis added).

Will there be those who the postman will not admit into the castle? The scriptures again provide the answer. Speaking in a parable concerning the time when He would finally take others into the castle, the postman declared that:

“…They that were ready went in with him… and the door was shut.
“Afterward came also the [others]… saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.
“But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not” (Matthew 25:10-12).

The postman will only admit those who are ‘ready’ into the presence of the king (remember, the king resides in the highest degree of glory in Heaven). I will now reveal the the key of this whole analogy, which is the key to getting ‘ready’: the postman doesn’t just take our letters when He comes to our door, He knocks quietly to give us a personal invitation from the king:

“Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.
To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne” (Revelation 3:20-21, emphasis added).

The whole point of the postman’s mortal life was to prepare and show us the way back to the king—He ‘overcame’ and went from ‘grace to grace’—it is how the postman became the postman, and thus it is only by Him and His grace that we could ever get a letter—or ourselves—through the castle doors.

Do you see that if we desire to communicate with the king, we must go through the postman; if we desire to worship the king, we must worship through the postman; if we desire to go to the king, we must go through the postman? The church bears the postman’s name not because we are not to worship the king, but because the church is but another conduit through which man must go to approach Him. If it were not so, it would called by some other name.

So, Thomas, Heavenly Father—our king—may yet be a stranger to your heart and mind, but I exhort you to look to the postman. He is the very likeness of His father insomuch that “he that hath seen [the Son] hath seen the Father” (John 14:9). Next time you have a letter to put in the mailbox, wait a moment and listen for a knock at your door. It won’t do to yell “it’s open” or “come in”; you must let Him in from within. Go to church, pray vocally on your knees, read the scriptures daily—these simple things open the door for that unassuming post man.

And when you come to know Him, know that you are also coming to know the Father through Him. You may find that the Father is a lot more ‘relatable’ than you once assumed.

—Joseph

Recognizing Answers to Prayer: A Radical Shift in World View

Dear Joseph,

“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…. You cannot pray to both a true God and a false one.”

I like what you’ve said here and it makes very good sense. Only thing is, I have been reaching all this time for a connection with a being I could regard as a Father. In being unable to find such an one, I have resigned myself instead to a mere awareness of a non-hostile General. It is an idea that satisfies me at least.

The missionaries have suggested I try fasting to find God. We read three verses from Alma regarding a man who fasted and found God, so they want me to give it a go, with prayers and scripture reading all the while of course. So far, I’ve spent an entire shift at work hungry and thirsty, repeating variations of the same prayer in my head whenever the job didn’t demand my full attention, and reading from Mosiah on my breaks.

Here’s a tidy version of the message I’ve been pushing out into the great wide expanse:

God,

Most people start a prayer to you with an expression of gratitude for something or another but that doesn’t seem entirely appropriate in my case. Too disingenuous; gratitude is one emotion I definitely do not feel when I think about you. I’ve been told that through fasting I might find you. I don’t think that means you’ll come to me if I fast. My guess is it has something to do with my moving closer to you.

This isn’t a challenge to you, like “work a miracle before my fast ends or else”—no, nothing like that. I just want to feel something; I don’t expect to be made to know anything. “Knowing isn’t faith,” I’ve heard. I just want to feel something that I can put my faith in. I’m willing to serve a just cause—even eager to do so—but I need to feel that the cause is just. From my perspective right now, your cause doesn’t look very just.

I have two main questions I would love answers to:
1. Do you even exist?
2. If you exist, is your nature and power anything like the various scriptures describe?

As it stands, in this moment, I absolutely do not believe the latter and I tend toward doubting the former. But in the same way that a person can wish they could fly or teleport of have telekinesis and believe their life could be so much more awesome with any (or all!) of those abilities—even while knowing for a fact that they’re all completely impossible—I can imagine how much more awesome my life could be if you existed and your nature and power were anything like the various scriptures describe, and you were actually in my life.

So if fasting moves me closer to you, if you’re out there, to where I can hear you, feel you, sense you in anyway whatsoever, I’m willing to give that an honest effort. I’ll be like a grown man making a sincere wish to fly, and I’m jumping off the cliff now. I don’t know if you’re there to catch me. If you are there, I still don’t know whether you even could catch me if you wanted to.

But I hope so. I really do.

Amen.

It’s the most sincere prayer I’ve prayed in about a decade.

—Thomas


Dear Thomas,

I can’t help but be moved to tears by the plea of your heart towards God. In my mortal weakness I would cry out that a God who would not respond to such sincerity would be cold and unfeeling, and perhaps not worthy of the name “Father.” In my weakness I would believe that an unmoved being would be better referred to as “General.” As you said, Thomas:

“…I have been reaching all this time for a connection with a being I could regard as a Father. In being unable to find such an one, I have resigned myself instead to a mere awareness of a non-hostile General.”

But my dear friend, Thomas, I assure you that if I who am but a mortal built of weakness (nonetheless I try to be as righteous as possible) am moved in the least degree by your words, then the Father of your spirit, who looks upon the hearts of men (1 Samuel 16:7), is touched with a sympathy far beyond our acquaintances.

This is one of the most satisfying aspects of believing in a personable God: He is a being of passions, as we are, and so He is automatically relatable. The creeds of man-made religions (or at the very least, man-altered religions) state that, “[God is] infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, [etc.].” This is not scripture; this is the precepts of men. As you asked God Himself:

“If you exist, is your nature and power anything like the various scriptures describe?”

Be not deceived by that which appears true, or is mingled with truth, but which is false. Be sure that the being you are seeking to believe in is not the equivalent of a genie with (and I quote Aladdin, the Disney movie), “phenomenal cosmic powers[, but an] itty bitty living space,” because he fits inside of your heart. Such a being is an incomprehensibility, and there is no beauty in an incomprehensibility unless you are a die-hard fan of smoke and mirrors. As the prophet Joseph Smith stated:

“That which is without body, parts and passions is nothing. There is no other God in heaven but that God who has flesh and bones….
“We came to this earth that we might have a body and present it pure before God in the celestial kingdom. The great principle of happiness consists in having a body. The devil has no body, and herein is his punishment. He is pleased when he can obtain the tabernacle of man, and when cast out by the Savior he asked to go into the herd of swine, showing that he would prefer a swine’s body to having none.”

—Joseph Smith,

When we come to an understanding that God the Father is actually a person—body and all—just as His Son who walked among men and was resurrected is actually a person (John 5:26), a forgotten kinship can be reestablished, and you can begin to remember Him. When that happens, we no longer pray to a being whose feelings and nature we can only guess at; we pray to a person who feels as we feel and who is like we are. He knows what it is like to be one of us because He is one of us. The difference between He and us is that He sits enthroned in yonder glory and is more intelligent than we are—but that is not the same as being elevated beyond what might be termed “mere human feelings and simple things such as smiles or tears—yes, even tears! The precepts of men teach that God is cold as a rock and out of our reach to comprehend, but it is not true—He feels as we feel, and the ancient prophet Enoch recorded it:

“And [Enoch] beheld Satan; and he had a great chain in his hand, and it veiled the whole face of the earth with darkness; and he looked up and laughed, and his angels rejoiced. […]
“And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?
“…How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity? […]
“The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands….
“And unto thy brethren have I said… that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood; […]
“…Wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer? (Moses 7:26,28-29,32-33,37)

When I read your prayer, my heart is moved for you. If my feeling is as good a one as I can produce, and if compared to God I’m evil in my righteousness, then how much more shall God’s heart be moved for you, seeing He is perfect?

“Or what man is there of you, who, if his son ask bread, will give him a stone?
“Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
“If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (3 Nephi 14:9-11).

So the question to really answer for you is not whether God will hear your prayer or not; it is that what if, after reaching out “into the great wide expanse” (as you still believe it to be), you receive no answer—none to satisfy you? Assuming all I have written to you on the personality of the character of God is true, then what can be learned when no answer seems to come to you?

“For I am the Lord thy God; I dwell in heaven; the earth is my footstool; I stretch my hand over the sea, and it obeys my voice; I cause the wind and the fire to be my chariot; I say to the mountains—Depart hence—and behold, they are taken away by a whirlwind, in an instant, suddenly” (Abraham 2:7).

I do not believe it would be a productive or pertinent use of my time to attempt to troubleshoot your prayer and fasting. If you are truly doing the things you are doing with honest intent, and the prayer you are praying is as heartfelt as you have written, then there is no problem with the message or the manner in which you are sending it; however, do you know how to recognize revelation—the answer—when it comes, even if you just want “to feel something”?

I will tell you this upfront: there is a critical shift in your spirit that needs to take place in order for you to get anything out of the conduit to Heaven. As evidence of this need, I will quote your own words:

“Gratitude is one emotion I definitely do not feel when I think about you[, God].”

Your life experiences have hardened your heart to the point where you have made the above statement. There is no fault there. However, if you desire to recognize revelation when it comes to you, you will have to soften your heart on this point. What is being betrayed of your world view when you make the above admission is that you do not see God’s hand in your life anywhere; there is no need to thank Him for anything because He has done nothing in your life worth thanking Him for. In other words, you’ve put the blinders up and you willingly choose to remove God from the equation of anything good.

Is this a correct stance to take? Are you justified in believing that God has ignored you all your life?

There was a man who aided Joseph Smith as a scribe when the Book of Mormon was being translated whose name was Oliver Cowdery. Before Joseph and Oliver’s first meeting, Joseph was given to know exactly when and where Oliver would arrive to seek him out. And so when the appointed time came, Joseph greeted Oliver and told him exactly how Oliver had come to arrive at that place. Oliver was stunned and wanted to know how Joseph could have known such a thing. Despite Joseph’s telling Oliver that it was the workings of the spirit of God, Oliver put up the blinders and couldn’t believe it. In a revelation that Joseph Smith later received, God reminded Oliver of this fact:

“Verily, verily, I say unto thee[, Oliver], blessed art thou for what thou hast done; for thou hast inquired of me, and behold, as often as thou hast inquired thou hast received instruction of my Spirit. If it had not been so, thou wouldst not have come to the place where thou art at this time.
“Behold, thou knowest that thou hast inquired of me and I did enlighten thy mind; and now I tell thee these things that thou mayest know that thou hast been enlightened by the Spirit of truth” (Doctrine and Covenants 6:14-15, emphasis added)

As you can see from the language of this revelation, Oliver had been acting according to the ‘Spirit of truth’—guided to the place he now was—without knowing it! Once Oliver shifted his world view to one that included God in the equation of all things good, he could look to the past and clearly distinguish the influence of God in his life, which enabled him to slowly recognize the operations of the Spirit of God in the present.

If you are to recognize God’s answer to your seeking, you must have the spiritual vision to look ahead in faith, which is marked by an awareness of the workings of God in your past. Without these things, you are like the person who stays indoors for fear of the trees, though his house is made of wood. It’s akin to the message given in a monologue by Reverend Graham Hess, played by Mel Gibson, in the movie Signs:

“People break down into two groups. When they experience something lucky, group number one sees it as more than luck, more than coincidence. They see it as a sign, evidence, that there is someone up there, watching out for them. Group number two sees it as just pure luck. Just a happy turn of chance…. For them, [an abnormal] situation is a fifty-fifty. Could be bad, could be good. But deep down, they feel that whatever happens, they’re on their own. And that fills them with fear. Yeah, there are those people. But there’s a whole lot of people in group number one…. And deep down, they feel that whatever’s going to happen, there will be someone there to help them. And that fills them with hope.
“See what you have to ask yourself is what kind of person are you? Are you the kind that sees signs, that sees miracles? Or do you believe that people just get lucky? Or, look at the question this way: Is it possible that there are no coincidences?”

I have found in my own life that God most often speaks to me in symbols, which have the power to convey much more than mere words. Language is sometimes a prison for our thoughts, and it should be no surprise that when God speaks He chooses to break free of that confinement. When I was riding my bike one night as a missionary in Taiwan, I looked up and I saw a most illuminating vision. In my journal I recorded:

“In the dusk, as shades of amber and grey kicked up into the darkening blue from city around us, I saw that the light was truly speaking to me, testifying that God rules in the heavens. And below lay an expanse of sharp edges and smoke, all illuminated by red lights but appearing black as grime…. Clawing the hills I beheld the smoke stacks of industry—pillars of worldly righteousness. All of this business gripped the land like a molten, crusty chain… strewn tightly across it. Above, the familiar colors of the setting sky painted by Heavenly Hosts proclaiming the omnipotence of a Heavenly Father; below, His children blinded by idols, an enraptured audience to a sinister soliloquy of laughter coming from the head of the dark chain.”

God speaks to man, you and I, “according to their language, unto their understanding” (2 Nephi 31:3), so do not be under the impression that because I looked up into the sky and experienced a certain something that you must have the same experience. Whatever the means will be that God will use to communicate with you, it will be perfectly understandable to you, but only if you recognize it.

The key is that God has already been working in your life. As I wrote to you before, if this were not the case you would not be where you are now presented with the restored Gospel. It’s been the process of your life to find fault with God, and that’s natural if not expected per the course your life has taken, but now you must use your agency and open your eyes to His goodness and mercy—the guidance of His Spirit of truth—in your life. Simply put, you must repent, which for you includes what I will call a radical shift in world view (Bible Dictionary, “Repentance”).

When you do, the rain upon the mountains, the color of the sunsets, and the time spent with missionaries will reveal a real, personable Someone you’ve only briefly forgotten.

—Joseph