Replies to Thomas

Let us Commune: Forgiveness

Dear Thomas,

I must preface what I want to say with a disclaimer that if there is fault or error in what I am attempting to convey, find fault with the messenger in this case, not the message, for I know it is true.

With that said, I wanted to address the issue of the debtor and forgiveness but from the perspective of Mormon doctrine. The best place to start is with our Heavenly Father. We believe that we are all His spirit sons and daughters and that we lived with Him before this world was made. At that time (we call it the “pre-existence,” which is somewhat of a misnomer since we believe that we did in fact exist then, just without physical bodies), our Heavenly Father stood out from us, His children, because He had a physical body, whereas we only had spirit ones. At that time—as at this time—He allowed us all to exercise free will (or what we often term “free agency”) to choose to learn and grow and progress to become like Him or choose not to do any of those things. At a council held in this pre-existence, it was proposed that an earth would be created for us, His spirit children, upon which to inherit and gain bodies. As the key player of this plan, a Savior would have to be sent to earth to bring us back to the presence of God, our Heavenly Father. Jesus Christ, pre-mortally known as Jehova, is the first born of all of Heavenly Father’s spirit children, and also the only perfect being of God’s spirit offspring (He is a God and always has been). He was chosen to perform the atoning sacrifice, a critical role that only He could fulfill.

Well, that’s a lot of prologue, but the doctrine of the pre-existence helps lay the ground for future questions, as I will hereafter describe.

So, why are we here? As was outlined in the pre-mortal council, we are here to continue to progress and become like our Heavenly Father, just as an earthly child grows up to become an adult or a seed becomes a tree. It is unique to Mormon doctrine to believe that a physical body is necessary to “progress” in the eternal scheme of things, but its foundation can be found hinted at in biblical passages and events. For example, why was Jesus’ body so important that He needed it back after He died? Does He still have a body now? Why do certain scriptures speak about a future resurrection made possible by Jesus’ resurrection? I won’t answer these questions right now, but understand that Mormon doctrine teaches that, yes, our bodies are eternally significant and that we will possess them eternally after the universal resurrection to come.

If we need a body, then why is life so dang hard? Why do we have to die? Couldn’t God just have handed some bodies out at the pre-mortal council (we call it “the council in Heaven,” by the way) and called it good? The answer to these questions is that we’re not only here to gain a body but also to comprehend that everything has its opposites: good and evil, virtue and vice, etc. Why? Because this knowledge is also what makes Heavenly Father a God, and we could not become fully ‘like Him’ without it. Necessarily, going through this life is fraught with spiritual peril. Satan is a real being who is working against Heavenly Father. He knows that “no unclean thing can enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” and so it is that He tempts us to sin and never repent and thus disqualify ourselves from returning to our Father in Heaven, to progress and be happy. Sin isn’t a necessary part of this mortal experience, but, with the exception of Jesus Christ, our weak selves give in all the time. Heavenly Father knew this from the beginning. That’s why a perfect Son was chosen to be our Savior and that’s why only He could perform the atonement.

Our loving Heavenly Father loves nothing more than to be merciful to us His children, yet He is a being of perfect justice. And, as the Book of Mormon teaches, were He not so, He would cease to be a God (which may sound unique to our doctrine but makes sense really if He is the epitome of perfection and righteousness that He says He is). So to reclaim us who are “unclean,” He sent His only begotten Son in the flesh, Jesus Christ, to gain a body, live perfectly, and—as the only perfect being—sacrifice Himself for the sins of mankind. Thus Jesus Christ has the power to act as Mediator between the Father and us.

As you wrote once, it is true that we are unable to be “free” in Heaven—in the life to come—without our negative baggage being payed for. Now, in Mormon Doctrine, failure to pay the debt does not result in being cast into some pagan pit of fire, but instead it results in receiving less glory in Heaven than those who were righteous (remember how Heavenly Father is perfectly just? Just as there are varying degrees of righteousness among God’s children, there are varying degrees [or “mansions”] of Heaven for us to inherit). How are our debts “forgiven” then? Jesus Christ, who payed the debt of all sin, steps in and uses His suffering as the payment of our debt, saying to the perfect enforcer of justice, our Father, “I have seen the works of this one, and they have been the works I have commanded that He should receive of my grace.”
That is why we must take upon ourselves His “yoke,” or take up our “cross” and follow Him. His works were the works His Father gave Him to do. And, as the earned gate keeper, mercy is thus His to dispense.

This then is termed “forgiveness” because it is not we who must not pay the debt, which can only be payed in suffering, “which suffering caused… even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that [He] might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink.” Instead, our obedience to Him enables justice to allow mercy to save us by virtue of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, or in other words, Christ appeases the demands of justice. It is Christ who has payed the debt. Without Christ, our road of eternal progression, to become like our Heavenly Father, would end at death.

Hopefully that explains—at the very least—how I know that forgiveness is truly forgiveness. I know because I have partaken of Christ’s mercy countless times.

Now I pose another analogy to add some more grist for your thought mill:

A man was confident that God would save Him from drowning if he merely asked it. So he proceeded to throw himself into a lake and wait for the miracle. A boat came by wanting to help the man. The man refused and said that God would save him. The man drowned and went to the spirit world. He asked God, “Why didn’t you save me like I asked?” God responded, “I sent that man in the boat to get you but you refused!”

Now that was a joke, but it makes a good point of just how much influence, though oftentimes unnoticed, the Man who lets God direct his life can have on others.

—Joseph

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Definitions: Forgiveness, Knowing God

Dear Joseph,

I really like that preamble to the creation story. It gives a reason other than “God got bored” for why he created us in the first place.


“It is forgiveness because we must not pay the debt”


But the debt must still be paid, even if not by us. And so the debt is not forgiven.



Sending the boat, one could argue, could have happened with or without intervention from God, which reminds me of another point I’ve been mulling over lately: God seems to get credit for things that very well may have happened anyway and he gets to dodge the blame for things that he could have prevented if he’d wanted to.

People are inconsistent in their beliefs about God’s nature. Not that they have any hope of understanding it in the first place, but at least stay consistent with the information he’s provided us.

—Thomas


 

Dear Thomas,

I see your point about something still having been payed, even if that thing was a debt, and therefore not really qualifying for the technical definition of forgiveness. I agree, definition-wise, that there isn’t really “forgiveness” in that case. However, my family once incurred a huge-normous fee at a hospital that exceeded our means to ever reasonably pay off. This was obviously a debt. Upon examining our situation, the hospital called us up and said, “your debts are forgiven,” and took the debt off our shoulders. Did the doctors and nurses who helped us not get payed? No, they did, but the money came from somewhere else, a generous stranger or a reserve fund for people like us—I don’t know. But I always thought their use of language was interesting: “your debts are forgiven.” According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, one meaning of “forgive” is to “cancel (a debt).”

Once we theologically replace the threat of “do this or else I’ll destroy you” with “do this or suffer the natural consequences” in God’s intentions, He becomes far less extortionate in nature.

With regards to your comment about understanding the nature of God, I do believe that we can have a hope of understanding it, but if it is to be revealed to us it would be from God Himself and not the conjecturing of man—though one thing can be certain: His ways are higher than ours. For instance, with the joke about the boat angel/dude, one way of understanding such a situation is to realize that the influence of God is something constantly available to us if we want it. For the saint or sinner, turning one’s thoughts to goodness in general (moral goodness, what we might deem “righteousness”) unlocks the influence of God in that person, even without that person realizing it. It places us in the right times and at the right places to act as an instrument in God’s hands for good. With that said, the person ending up in said position is only so doing because he has heeded the small promptings of the spirit of God throughout his day—he has chosen for himself to follow God’s will, though inadvertent. The person who wrongs another, or commits a crime, cannot be said to have been under the influence of “God,” and if he so contends I would say that an evil spirit has deceived him into wrongful worship.

In all cases, we use our will to either follow God’s will and do good, or not. I do not believe that God “willed” the explosions at the Boston marathon, for instance, but that the darkened minds of a couple instruments in Satan’s hands did the will of the devil. Could they use their will and say to the world, “God made me do it!” Sure. Would they be wrong? Absolutely. God desires our well-being and happiness, but the process for our eternal development (at this stage, at least) occurs in a place where we cannot see Him and we are subject to the negative repercussions of the actions of others, wicked or otherwise.

I would like to write more, but my time is limited today. I’ll hear from you soon, I’m sure.

—Joseph

Creation and Consequence

Dear Joseph,

I want to clarify that I didn’t mean to say in my last missive that God is or isn’t doing something he should or shouldn’t be doing. I’m talking about our skewed perceptions of God; perceptions which are not Biblically supported and which are preached as fact anyway.



”Once we theologically replace the threat of ‘do this or else I’ll destroy you’ with ‘do this or suffer the natural consequences’ in God’s intentions, He becomes far less extortionate in nature.”


I would agree with that up until we account for the fact that God created all of nature from nothing. He designed those consequences deliberately, meaning God has stacked the deck against us since before we had flesh. There’s less of a difference between “I’ll destroy you” and “natural consequences” when the one doing the destroying CHOSE to make THAT the natural consequence.

—Thomas


 

Dear Thomas,

I see what you mean about the natural consequences argument, and I would have to agree according to the way I laid things out. But that does bring up another important part of Mormon doctrine, which is that God did not make the universe out of nothing. Instead, we believe that the creation took place as an organization of unorganized matter. I don’t know the scientific details by any means, but we hold that “creatio ex nihilo,” as a manmade doctrine, is only an attempt to explain where everything came from. We believe that it has always existed (the matter of things, that is) and that God commanded the pre-mortal Jesus Christ who then organized the matter into its present system. How does that organization take place? I don’t know, apparently through accretion disks and gravitational collapse over billions of years; suffice it to say that at one point there was light, which was good, and then there was dry land, waters, etc. (referencing Genesis), which were all good.


Now, what does that have to do with anything? 
I think it’s important to understand what the “natural consequence,” of which I previously wrote, actually is. God’s design from ‘before the flesh’ is not to consign us to misery and destruction. We will all be rewarded for choosing Christ as our redeemer in the council held in the pre-existence, and that reward is forthcoming for us all. But for those who again (but this time through faith in this life [as opposed to direct knowledge when we lived in his presence]) choose to follow Christ, an even greater reward is at hand. 


In other words, this life is an opportunity to once again choose Christ, but it is a harder choice than the last time we did so. Through modern revelation, we know that Heaven has a general division of three different kingdoms or “degrees of glory.” Paul hinted at it when he said, “There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars” (1 Corinthians 15:40-41). They are not all preserved in his description, but he mentions the celestial glory, the terrestrial glory, but there is also the telestial glory (correlating to the glory of the sun, the moon, and the stars in relative brightness from the perspective of the earth). 


We believe that a person must be punished for his/her own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression, so we are someday judged for only those things we did or didn’t do in this life despite being born as a fallen being. Each of us then are not doomed to “hell” for no reason, but will achieve differing degrees of glory. For those whose sins are “forgiven” through the atonement of Christ and have entered into the covenant of baptism, the celestial kingdom will be their reward. For all others, the other two kingdoms will be their reward. The thing is, even the telestial kingdom (the lowest kingdom, its glory being compared to the brightness of a tiny, twinkling star in the night sky as opposed to the blazing glory of the sun) is far beyond our ability to comprehend in its splendor and overall awesomeness. If the lowest is better than what we can now imagine, what will the highest glory be like? One important distinction between the kingdoms is that our Heavenly Father only resides in the highest kingdom.


So the take home message is that God isn’t saying “do this or I’ll destroy you” but “do this or suffer the natural consequences, which is to inherit a kingdom of glory consumate to how awesome you actually are and which will blow your mind, but not a place where we can be together.” If we will follow Christ, we can be “joint heirs” with Him in the celestial kingdom, but it’s always up to us. If that still seems extortionate in nature, then think of it more like what a loving father would say to a son who was about to spend his college savings on a shiny car: “If you buy that car you’ll never amount to anything!” Will that son amount to something eventually? Yes, and the father knows it, but he could have amounted to much more and bought an airplane if he would have saved his money. (This analogy only works if we exclude hypotheticals in that path, such as not finding a job after college or dying early, etc..) 

If you’re really interested, I could tell you more about the “Heaven and Hell” dichotomy that exists in the spirit world, an interim stage between this life and the eventual resurrection, and how that relates to classic Christian theology of eternal suffering and fire and brimstone, etc., but I won’t just throw that in right now.

—Joseph

Heaven or Hell?

Dear Joseph,

Mormon doctrine teaches that God manipulated pre-existing matter? Is that accurate? So . . . he “built” then, right? He didn’t create. And if THAT’S accurate then I would wonder why we are accountable to him in the first place. We are his children, yes, but a child does not live under his father’s rule his whole life. Eventually the child makes his own way, follows his own path, which we have been permitted to do, but that child does not return to his father’s house at the end of his life, submitting himself again to his father’s authority. A child has his own children, who grow and become independent in their own turn. So now, God is not a crazy ex-boyfriend, he’s an overbearing parent. Sort of amusing, on a side note, that Jewish mothers have a bit of a reputation for that very thing. Hehe, wonder where they got it from? 


“We will all be rewarded for choosing Christ as our redeemer in the council held in the pre-existence. But for those who again (but this time through faith in this life) choose to follow Christ, an even greater reward is at hand.”


And that is fine, and fair, and how it ought to be! Unfortunately, that’s not what other denominations teach, and those teachings seem lacking in logic to me.

And I would be extremely interested in another version of “Heaven and Hell.”


I also want to add that I very much appreciate you taking the time to have this discussion with me. I’m sure you’re “happy to do it” and all that, but it’s still time out of your day that could just as easily be spent doing other things that could make you equally happy, so I’m grateful that you picked writing to me as the way to use your time.

—Thomas 

P.S. 
I love the analogy with the son and the “shiny car”. That is inspired.


Dear Thomas,

You’re right, I am ‘happy to do it,’ and it makes me even happier that you appreciate my time. So thank YOU for sitting through what I imagine must be hours of squinting to decipher my ramblings. I can be verbose at times and I hope you can forgive me if I wander here and there. Your respect of my beliefs has equally fueled my drive to spout more information your direction. So thank you!


“Eventually the child makes his own way, follows his own path, which we have been permitted to do, but that child does not return to his father’s house at the end of his life, submitting himself again to his father’s authority.”

Yes, you’re on to more than you know. Mormon doctrine does teach that in the Celestial kingdom (the highest degree of heavenly glory, where God dwells) we will again live in or be able to enjoy the presence of the Father, but that is not the only distinction between it and the other kingdoms. We define exaltation as being saved in the highest degree of glory within the degree of the celestial kingdom (that means, yes, the highest level within the highest level), and people in this station not only live in the Father’s presence, they receive “all the Father hath” including living as the Father lives. As you mentioned above, it’s sort of a logical step—that is, if eternal families are like mortal families (and they are, minus the depravations of mortality)—to assume that someone who grows up to become an adult goes on to establish their own home and have their own kids.

Likewise, those who not only enter into the baptismal covenant but who are also are married in a sacred covenant in the temple can be together for time and eternity. This is why my wife and I were married in one of our LDS temples; sacred ordinances—far too sacred for a public viewing unlike baptism—can only be performed in a place built specifically for it. There we were married not until at “death do [we] part,” but forever. Why forever? Because we will set up our own Heavenly home and have our “own children, who grow and become independent in their own turn,” someday gaining a body on an earth and having their own children, etc., which pattern we catch a generational glimpse of while here on this earth.

There is a famous Mormon couplet of poetry penned by one of the early prophets that puts it this way: “As man now is, God once was; as God is now, man may be.” This doctrine is very sacred and rejected by mainstream Christianity (along with many of our other beliefs), but that’s why we call ourselves the “restored” church, and not another “reformed” one.


So when our Heavenly Father pleads for us to follow Christ, it’s not just because He’ll get anything more from it, but also because He knows the purest happiness and joys the universe has to offer and wants us each to be able to live like He does and enjoy what He enjoys. But he does gain glory in our eternal life, if we attain it. Just imagine if there was no death so that all of your progenitors still lived on the earth. Doubtless you’d still have left your mother and your father and cleaved unto your wife, as you have now and as the Bible teaches we should, but what would your relationship be like with your grandfather? Or great grandfather? Or great, great, great, great, great grandfather? The farther back you go, the more respect and veneration you would find by nature of his position within the family; put differently, it’s his descendants who would revere him and give him his honor. In the same manner, our Father in Heaven receives His glory from below, not above. 

You brought up another good point though, if God just “organized” stuff that was already around, why do we owe Him our allegiance? God knows the whole spectrum of existence already, and I think part of our being here is for us to learn that what He calls happiness actually is happiness. It’s like, if there was no veil of forgetfulness at the time of our births, we would look around and be like, “Oh yeah, you’re right, this place wasn’t as cool as I thought it would be.” A school of hard knocks, kind of. We are all, at some point, the prodigal son. The thing is God realizes that some of His children will prefer to dine with the swine instead of feasting on the fatted calf, and He will let them do as they choose! In the end, He will place us where we are happiest.


Another reason we ought to give allegiance to Him is because He is the architect of our existence and eventual salvation. Like St. John saw in vision, even the beasts fall down to worship God because they owe their happiness to His creative hands (animals have spirits too). The familial relationships analogy works here too. Though a child won’t necessarily choose to or even want to see his parents again, the fact of the matter is that he wouldn’t be around if it wasn’t for them, let alone have some college money to blow, etc. Similarly, whether or not we choose to praise God for organizing the unorganized into our spirit bodies, and later physical bodies, the fact is that He did it, and we owe our current happiness to Him for it.



Oh yes, Heaven and Hell. As you could probably deduce from my description of the three kingdoms of glory, nothing in that sounds quite “hellish” to our limited, mortal understanding, does it? Well, there is a place called “outer darkness” that will be pretty awful apparently, but we don’t know much about it besides the fact that it’s reserved for the devil and his angels. It’s not surprising that God has chosen to reveal to us more about our highest possible potential than the opposite so as to keep our minds on the goal. We know from modern revelation too, however, that there will be some mortals who will go to outer darkness, but they will be few and far between. They must be the types who say, “there is no sun,” at noonday, sinning against the Holy Ghost. I can name a couple notables who will probably go there, though judgement is obviously reserved for God: Cain and Judas Iscariot. Again, not official doctrine on the names of those who will go to outer darkness, but I feel pretty sure that of all people, they qualify.


But that’s not the whole of it. I mentioned a place called the spirit world in my last message. The spirit world is where our spirits go when we die, when our spirit body separates from our physical body. This spirit world is here on the earth, just invisible (to most of us). The spirit world is composed of two bodies of peoples, those who rest in the glory of God having a knowledge of His plan, and those who are pretty freaked out that they are still alive after leading a terrible life. Okay, I’ve probably generalized that too much, but you get the point hopefully: spirit “paradise” and spirit “prison,” we call it. The essential division is between the righteous and the wicked. This sphere is not just inhabited by the dead, but also by the angels and demons who seek to help or destroy us.

I don’t know how much more to say about it, but it may be interesting to know that the righteous dead who have received the Gospel are trying to preach to the wicked dead who perhaps never had an opportunity to accept it. That is why, as you have probably heard, we do ordinance work—like baptisms and marriages—for the dead in our temples. We don’t dig up corpses and baptize them or something bizarre like that, but we stand in place of them, so that if in the spirit world they accept the work, it has been completed in their behalf and they can receive the blessings as if they had been physically baptized while living (ordinances must be accomplished with a body, you see). We focus this work primarily on our own ancestors though we also do work for all that we can. This doctrine should help drive home the point that God gives ALL of His children an opportunity to become like Him.


In the New Testament, spirit paradise has a couple names including “paradise” itself (Jesus spoke it to the other man on a cross), and “Abraham’s bosom” (one of my favorite chapters in the New Testament, Luke 16). If you read in Luke 16, you’ll see how the rich man describes his feeling of losing out on his chance of being with Abraham (a righteous, departed spirit) as being “tormented in this flame” and desires Lazarus (another righteous, departed spirit) to “dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue” (Luke 16:24). Now, I’m not intentionally trying to set up a logical argument here, but merely prove a point: if the fire of “hell” is actually a pit of fire, how does a dude’s finger extinguish it with just a touch? Obviously, this is an analogy to the forgiveness the rich man desires for his unrighteousness so that he can be counted with the righteous. Likewise, it is part of our doctrine that the fire and brimstone, and “smoke that ascendeth up forever,” etc., are all describing the feeling of unbearable guilt that will beset you when you wake up to the bad choices you were making all along.


That is nearest to what we would call hell, but it is not our ultimate destination. Some day all men will be resurrected (the righteous at the beginning of the millennial reign, and the wicked at the end), and the resurrection marks the reuniting of our spirit bodies with our physical bodies, no matter what we did (or did not) in this life, forever. Then our bodies will be perfect and without flaw, and we will not age, get sick, or die. Christ was the first to be resurrected—He was the only one who could do it—and because of Him and His atonement (which includes the resurrection) we will all live forever. Why are we all gifted back our bodies? Because our bodies are the reward for those who chose Christ in the pre-mortal council, and they are key to enjoying the happiness Heavenly Father now enjoys. 
Who didn’t make that choice, and who will not and have not received bodies? The devil and his angels.

So there will come a day when we will all leave spirit prison regardless of what we’ve done—yes, what we teach is that there is an exit to hell (though we might not say it in those words because it would seem like incentive to blow our money on that shiny car)—and that day is called the resurrection. But then comes final judgement, where exaltation is shown to be ultimately our choice. Again pointing to God’s fairness and love, just as we have no choice but to die in this life, we will freely be resurrected to die no more; just as it is entirely our choice to sin and cut ourselves off from His presence, it is entirely our choice to return “home” by choosing to follow Christ as we did before this life.


And that’s only the surface. Even so, I understand that some of what I’ve shared is very deep to tread in. Please remember that if there are flaws in what I’ve said they are from me, not the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. I know these things are true.

—Joseph

Of Mice and Men

Dear Joseph,


Back in ’04 I received some study aids from a proselyting couple every week for a few months. I don’t know what church they were from, but the aids had a very interesting and new-to-me perspective on hell. They pointed out that, in the Bible, the phrase “immortal soul” never appears. That the soul is actually referenced several times as being destroyed. Hell itself is destroyed in Revelation, along with everyone in it. So this idea of an eternal place of physical torment is not Biblically supported.

For one, we won’t have physical bodies in Heaven, so how can we be physically tormented? Rather, it’s a place of separation from God where, having just been in His direct presence, our souls experience the worst possible emotional anguish being removed from it. And for two, it’s not eternal because it’ll be destroyed. Cease to exist. And I was told that the souls inside will likewise cease to exist.


I’m glad you brought up Judas and Cain. I’ve long felt that those two get a bum rap.


Take Cain, to begin with. He murdered his brother—a terrible thing. But let’s go back a bit and look at WHY he murdered Abel. Abel raised livestock and offered them to God. Cain was a farmer. He nurtured the earth and coaxed living things to grow from it. But, when he offered the literal fruit of his labors as a sign of his love and devotion to God, he was rejected and essentially told, “Why can’t you be more like your brother?” The one person in all of existence who should have been 100% guaranteed to love him unconditionally tells Cain that he’s not good enough. I’m not saying God is to blame for Abel’s murder, not at all. Just that maybe Cain had a bit more going on in his head than simple jealous rage; I kind of feel sorry for him. I mean, when your child comes home from preschool one day with a macaroni necklace for you, are you going to tell her it’s an ugly, poorly-crafted eyesore and throw it in the trash? Or are you going to tell her how beautiful it is and how much you love her as you let her put it on your neck and then wear it with love and pride for the rest of the day?

Why is it that we “fallen humans” are capable of showing greater empathy and compassion than God seems capable of?


As for poor old Judas, SOMEONE had to turn Jesus in, the fate of every soul to ever dwell on Earth hung in the balance. They were friends. How hard would it be for you to turn your best friend over to be tortured and executed? You know it has to be done, and he seems to have chosen you to do it. But, man, could you? Have you seen (or read) Of Mice & Men? SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t: 
at the end, George kills Lenny. Why? Is George an evil person? Has he decided after all to betray Lenny? No! He’s doing what needs to be done to protect his dearest friend from a fate worse than a mere bullet to the back of the head. So it is with Judas. Only instead of sparing his friend from an evil world, he had to give his friend over to that evil world in order for his friend to save it. If anything, Judas Iscariot deserves praise above and beyond what anyone except Christ himself will receive.

—Thomas


 

Dear Thomas,

Mormons believe the bible to be the word of God as far as it has been translated correctly, but we also understand and lament the fact that much has been lost from it over the years. This fact is one reason we cite for the coming forth of the Book of Mormon: to restore the “plain and precious” truths that have been obscured or lost. The point being that there is obviously a lot of information missing from the Bible that makes it easy for us to look at an account, like Cain’s, and say, “based on what I can see, God is pretty messed up. If I were Him I would have kept the dang macaroni necklace.”

Here’s what’s going on in this case: when we know two things are true but they appear conflict with one another, then we know that we are missing a third truth. In the case of Cain, we know it is true that God is loving and weeps over the loss of even one of His children, and IF it is true that He straight rejected Cain’s sacrifice, then the third truth is simply that Cain must have done more than we can account for in the 5,000 year old story.

In the annals of modern revelation since Joseph Smith’s first vision in 1820, somewhat has been said about what that missing account contains, about what exactly Cain did (or didn’t do…). But I won’t delve into that now because we have yet to cover the basics of the doctrines of the Gospel, and without that proper foundation any additional information on this subject will be fraught with tangential doctrinal expositions and the like.

For one, we won’t have physical bodies in Heaven, so how can we be physically tormented? Rather, it’s a place of separation from God where, having just been in His direct presence, our souls experience the worst possible emotional anguish being removed from it. And for two, it’s not eternal because it’ll be destroyed. Cease to exist. And I was told that the souls inside will likewise cease to exist.

You bring up some good points here. How can we physically be tormented if our bodies are lying in the grave? You’re right, we can’t! That is why we don’t use the word “Hell” to describe that place, but rather “Spirit Prison,” which is a more apt description of what it will be like there. The analogy of fire and brimstone and having coal on your tongue, etc., are simply that: analogies! The pain we will feel in that place will be a mental and spiritual torment.

And Hell will have an end. Christ broke the bands of death for all of us, and so too for the “spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3:19, a very interesting passage of scripture for this subject, in case you’d like to read up on that). Hell will have an end inasmuch as it had a beginning, or a creation, as a state of mind would have a definite start and end, though the mind exists independent of that state. In a similar manner, though Hell should pass away, the spirits there will not pass away. Some will go to outer darkness (recall the degrees of glory I mentioned before), and most will go to a higher degree of glory than that, but they will not be destroyed along with the prison that temporarily bound them. We do not believe that those who belong to “the wrong church,” for example, will be cast off to Hell to rot for eternity; that is a teaching of men and not of God.


But yeah, as for Judas, who knows. I like to speculate as much as the next guy, but without word from the Lord (whether through Him directly or His servants, the prophets), it’s just speculation as far as I’m concerned. Luckily it doesn’t affect my own salvation one way or the other, and that’s what I’m all about. I like your comparison to Of Mice and Men, which I have read (nothing spoiled!), because it makes a good point. If Judas was making the decision based on informed righteousness, then I think you’re right in that he has some intense glory in reserve; but if he’s just the traitor that he appears to be, then the opposite is true. I tend to align more with the latter because of the sentiments and experiences of Joseph Smith, who—through sad and downright awful experiences—learned that the most damnable enemies to the truth often come from those who were once closest to it.

I will write more to you about this subject soon.

—Joseph

P.S. 

I am aware that there are some apocryphal accounts that speak of Judas being formally executed by the other apostles to pay for a betrayal that HAD to be done. That’s why in my last letter to you I said the names of those two (Cain and Judas) aren’t doctrinal in terms of being for-sure candidates for outer darkness (where those go who were in hell when hell is destroyed, like you mentioned).

P.P.S.

I enjoyed the analogy of the macaroni necklace. Very creative!