Replies to Thomas

Category: faith

Poem: Mind as a Garden, Thoughts as the Rain

THY mind, O man, is as a garden;
thy thoughts are as the rain,
which nourish seedlings spread throughout,
for weed or flower’s reign.

It is not thou who art the planter,
of seed for grace or gloom,
but the chooser of the growing—
thy yearnings doth give bloom.

Without hands the seeds are sown in
fertile ground ensuring
their steady growth to quickly spread
influence and mooring.

The planters twain are light and dark,
life or sin their yielding;
each seed is set and safely waits
thy mind’s weather revealing.

The dark ones plead and grasp for thirst,
and grow so easily;
The light ones too shall rise and bloom,
but bid thee quietly.

God seeks to dwell in Eden’s lawn,
where thorn nor thistle grow;
“Repent!” he calls to natural minds,
“Uproot! Take spade and hoe!”

The master gardner bought the tools—
the price for change is paid!
“I for you will dig,” he says, “if
“from weeds thy rains are stayed.”

“The seeds of darkness I cannot stop,
“while life’s test you are in;
“Take care, therefore, to wet no more,
“the leastwise seed of sin.”

From birth to death the garden grows;
new seeds arise daily.
Thy rain of thoughts, then, is the crux,
’twill swell thy destiny:

Lush green and fruits to please the Lord,
and walk in cool of day;
or briars, thorns, and noxious weeds,
dim glory: like moon grey.


Time: All is as One Day with God

Dear Joseph,

Life: what a waste of time! I find it hard to believe that God would waste time having me and the other billions of humans bumbling about stubbing our toes in cluelessness. And Mormons say we’re here to become like God? Say I’m lucky enough to have until age 80 to do that. Somewhere in the Bible it says God gets one day for each millennium for us. Why can’t I have 80 years of his time (I guess that would be 80,000 human years) to try and become like him? Seems like he’s just proven himself a tid-bit unfair.


Dear Thomas,

There are a great many proofs for the eternal nature of our existence. As I’ve written before, the curvature of the earth itself is a proof of eternity, reality being non-euclidean. Of course, faith operates independent of this or any proof (there are many, for the scriptures say, “All things denote there is a God” [Alma 30:44]), and you will still need to cultivate faith before you can approach God’s presence in your life. But I outline here per your inquiry a few items to satisfy your mind for the time being.

The theme of time touches closely on the non-euclidean nature of reality, and many of the principles implicit in the one are explicit in the other. But let’s start with the grand secret (or mystery) to be comprehended: the universe does not exist in time, but time exists in the universe. Following? Let’s look at this concept a little closer.

Perhaps due to the structure of our faulty, human language (which Joseph Smith termed a prison), people generally assume that the past, the present, and the future are distinct, nearly-tangible states of being. Indeed, time is the accepted “fourth dimension” of three-dimensional space, all subjects of the three spacial dimensions being translated across the fourth at relative rates. Einstein solidified the notions of general relativity and of space-time as a unified substance during the then-blossoming scientific era, and it’s been stuck in our collective heads ever since. Popularity, of course, can never justify a falsehood (I won’t even touch the contradictory evidence of late that is pushing general relativity and space-time off the proverbial chalkboard of “facthood”).

Whatever the reason, humanity is practically born being told to believe that time is something that, if not nearly physical, is at least somewhat tangible. Case in point: the ever-popular, ever-elusive time machine, the subject of so much science fiction that it would seem only a matter of pending human genius before it finally manifests as science fact. But can one who is a denizen of the present be planted in the past—which was once someone else’s present—and then mess with it? Then you get into multiverse speculation and so forth. It’s good fodder for a thrilling movie or sci-fi novel, but hardly the substance of truth!

Lucky for us, God has been anything but silent on the matter, and if we apply our minds to the revelations he has given, we can comprehend this enigma and be glorified by the light of truth—by knowledge (D&C 93:28).

One of the greatest gifts, in this respect, is this word given in the scriptures: “reckoning.”

“And the Lord said unto me[, Abraham], by the Urim and Thummim, that Kolob was after the manner of the Lord, according to its times and seasons in the revolutions thereof; that one revolution was a day unto the Lord, after his manner of reckoning, it being one thousand years according to the time appointed unto that whereon thou standest. This is the reckoning of the Lord’s time, according to the reckoning of Kolob” (Abraham 3:4).

What this verse is saying is that time is measured according to the motion of something relative to the motion of another, and furthermore that this principle is applied throughout the universe. At another time, the Lord says to Abraham that all measurements of time can only be comprehended relative to “that upon which thou standest in point of reckoning,…the earth upon which thou standest” (Abraham 3:5). If you don’t have a ruler, you can’t measure anything!

This is the same principle behind the drip analogy. Say you have a faucet just floating in space and a drop of water drips off the end. Then another drip drops after that. And another after that, and so on. How much time intervened between drips? With no rotating planet around a star like the sun—with no motion beside the drips—there is actually no way to tell how much time intervened, let alone whether the drips are occurring at a regular rate or not. But add a second faucet to the scene and say it dripped with the other but also once between those drips. Now we can establish, or ‘reckon,’ a passage of time: the first faucet drips half as quickly as the second. Now, relative to earth time that still doesn’t tell us how much time has passed—but that’s the point: earth time only means something if you are standing on earth! Anywhere else in the universe and it becomes arbitrary, unless you’re an astronaut in contact with earth and need to comprehend something relative to your former setting—which is exactly Abraham’s situation.

According to the above scripture (verse four; see also what you alluded to in 2 Peter 3:8), one day in Heaven (or the planet Kolob [see Semetic qlb, “heart, center”]) is not 1,000 years because of relativistic space-time distortion compared to the earth (time dilation), but because it is measured in comparison to the earth’s time keeping as 1,000 earth years (365,000 earth days or revolutions) to one Kolob day or revolution (by revolution these scriptures refer to a synodic period, the measure of time needed for a stationary object [the sun] to return to the same point in the sky). Further reading in the same chapter confirms that the simple truth is that Kolob rotates extremely slowly relative to earth’s rotation (1/365,000th the speed, to be somewhat exact). All other planets too have their own reckoning for the beings that live upon them, but it can only be understood by us when compared to our own “ruler,” which is the earth day—the synodic period, approximately 24 hours (an hour simply being an equal division of the synodic period, with a minute being an equal division of the hour, the second of the minute, and so on, relative to the motion of the earth, which the Lord calls our ‘point of reckoning’). Hence 80 years of your earth life is 80 earth-years to God’s experience, he just measures it differently.


“[…] All the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator” (Alma 30:44).

Now, you may be thinking, “I get it. The rotation of the worlds is needed for measuring time, sure. But how does that make time travel impossible? How does that not make the future and the past aspects of a fourth dimension?” Let’s turn to the words of the prophet Joseph Smith:

“I take my ring from my finger and liken it unto the mind of man—the immortal part, because it has no beginning. Suppose you cut it in two; then it has a beginning and an end; but join it again, and it continues one eternal round. So with the spirit of man. As the Lord liveth, if it had a beginning, it will have an end…. But…God never had the power to create the [intelligence] of man at all. God himself could not create himself.
“Intelligence is eternal and exists upon a self-existent principle. It is a spirit from age to age, and there is no creation about it. All the minds and spirits that God ever sent into the world are susceptible of enlargement.
“The first principles of man are self-existent with God. God himself, finding he was in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself” (Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith [STPJS], 354).

This is Joseph Smith’s famous ring analogy, which says that our ‘intelligence,’ a term that has been uniquely abstracted in Mormonism, which might also be called the ‘mind of man,’ has no beginning and no end. It just is. This is only difficult to comprehend when we fail to see beyond the prison of viewing the universe as existing in time. Start by removing the notion that time is a thing at all. “…Time only is measured unto men,” the scriptures say (Alma 40:8), and so it must be for now—this form of existence between the bounds of birth and death—because this life is a probation (1 Nephi 10:21), in other words it is finite. Like I’ve said before, it’s a testing period, but you don’t measure the passage of life before or after the ACT or SAT based on the timing of that test, and likewise a test taker needn’t measure the time of the test relative to the longer years of life. What I’m trying to say is that time is only ‘measured unto men’ because the test has a beginning and an end—existence does not; existence is infinite. This is important to understand in order to comprehend that time only exists relative to its measurement (movement); time itself, however, is not a thing.

Existence alone is a thing, and either it is or it isn’t—that is all. When Joseph Smith gives his analogy of cutting his ring to produce a beginning and an end, he is saying that nothing in existence follows such a course (though the same matter may be organized into various forms whose appearance have definite beginnings and endings, the matter does not). This applies not only to the ‘intelligences’ or ‘minds’ that exist, but also to the very elements which compose our bodies and the very universe—that which we might term “matter” (though much of what is matter is too pure to be detected by technology had by us currently). As Joseph Smith said:

The elements are eternal. That which has a beginning will surely have an end; take a ring, it is without beginning or end—cut it for a beginning place and at the same time you have an ending place.
“A key: Every principle proceeding from God is eternal and any principle which is not eternal is of the devil. The sun has no beginning or end; the rays which proceed from himself have no bounds, [and] consequently are eternal” (STPJS, 181).

As also a revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants:

“For man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy…. The elements are the tabernacle of God; yea, man is the tabernacle of God…” (D&C 93:33-35).

So also is the nature of the non-euclidean universe: all things that exist are not confined to given finite quantities but reach on in an infinite continuum, whether they be varieties of ‘intelligences’ or fundamental elements (“things to act” and “things to be acted upon” [2 Nephi 2:14; of course Lehi knew this before Joseph Smith]). There will never come a time when the matter that currently makes up your body will not exist somewhere in some state. There will never come a time when your intelligence will not exist somewhere in some state. And as the revelation above stated, joy is had in uniting mind and matter.

Another analogy was put forth to describe a seeming paradox of time: a man goes forth to build a tower exactly 50 feet high with two rules and one constraint: each layer will be exactly half has tall as the last, each layer will alternate in color black and white, and his deadline is 50 days. His first layer was black and 25 feet tall—half the overall design—and took him 25 days to construct. The next piece was white and 12.5 feet tall—half of the remaining design—and took him 12 and a half days to construct. How long will it take him to finish the tower and what color will the final layer be?

The paradoxical answer lies in the idea that no matter how many layers of the tower are added, an increasingly small amount of space will always be left between the height of the topmost layer and the desired height of 50 feet. The paradox of time comes in that, if each layer could be constructed in exactly half the time of the previous layer, the division of time would become so increasingly minute to the point that the tower will never be finished though continually built!

This is of course an absurdity, trying to cram an infinite action into a finite situation: though infinities are attested to in nature and are key to existence, “finities” are just as real and must not be confused or frustrated. It is paradoxes such as this that try and pit the one against the other, reaching a supposed infinite conclusion based solely on the supposition that time is a dimension that can be infinitely subdivided. Even if we possessed the capacity as humans to measure time to the smallest degree fathomable, even an infinite one, the earth would continue rolling upon her wings just the same, with existence being finitely measured out to us just the same. No matter how you measure time, your reckoning cannot change. And this is precisely because time is not a fluid thing, existence is simply a constant, eternal instant of being, measured in movement “from eternity to all eternity” (Moses 6:67).

“So what color would the final layer be, Joseph?” Answer: white or black, depending on how quickly the builder can build. The point is that even the gods building such a tower would end up with white or black given a finite measure of time—like the ring, it has, in this hypothetical situation, been given a beginning and an end. But the gods could go on making an infinite number of towers because they have an infinite amount of raw materials and existence for them is unbounded.

But I don’t believe God wastes his time with trivial thought traps such as a paradox (perhaps because he has grasped such ideas long ago) and we needn’t either if it will not bring us closer to the truth. Probability and other number games can be a dangerous diversion if we do not guard ourselves with knowledge of things as they really are (Jacob 4:13). For example, there is the triviality that some trillion or so monkeys all typing on typewriters have some measurable probability of producing a Shakespearean work. That’s interesting to think about, but the truth is that a trillion times a trillion monkeys will never possess the intelligence necessary to ever, ever do so—none of them will ever do it, ever. Likewise, the beauty of this world has some probability of existing by chance, and yet the principle of entropy does not allow for it, unless Shakespeare himself was actually seated among the trillion monkeys—there has to be an adequate intelligence to produce it. There is an adequate intelligence that produced this world.

“Okay, Joseph, I think I get what you’re saying here,” I hope you’re now thinking, Thomas. “Time is actually just existence, like an awareness of existence, that seems like it is moving forward into the future, but really we’re just measuring our place in the universe? Like, time can’t be experienced faster or slower depending on where you are or how fast you’re moving, but it can be counted faster or slower. Are you saying, in essence, that time cannot be experienced differently but it can be measured differently?”

If that’s what you’ve picked up so far, then yes that’s exactly what I’m saying! Time is motion because an intelligence ordered the cosmos to give us a reckoning in it. Time exists (is measured) in the universe because the universe exists and has movement. By the nature of movement, finite periods are established such as days, hours, and minutes, but these measurements only stand to give ourselves reference in an infinite universe.

Now, when you and I are through with mortality, you may be surprised to find that with your mortal limitations of single-thoughts and single-focus (test parameters) removed, time may seem different. Like dreams wherein you seem to experience a decade’s worth of life only to wake up the next day, our ‘intelligence’ has perhaps an infinite potential for thought, making our ability to comprehend and experience existence in a finite period a much vaster and efficient thing than we could ever now imagine it to be (literally and idiomatically). That coupled with the limitless bounds of existence and access to all the record of the past states of things (and, for some, the future [D&C 130:8]) will produce a state and experience within a reckoning of time that will be so splendid and foreign that there’s literally nothing else I can really say about it. So I’ll let the prophet Brigham Young say a few words:

“The brightness and glory of the next apartment is inexpressible. It is not encumbered so that when we advance in years we have to be stubbing along and be careful lest we fall down. We see our youth, even, frequently stubbing their toes and falling down. But yonder, how different! They move with ease and like lightning. If we want to visit Jerusalem, or this, that, or the other place—and I presume we will be permitted if we desire—there we are, looking at its streets. If we want to behold Jerusalem as it was in the days of the Savior; or if we want to see the Garden of Eden as it was when created, there we are, and we see it as it existed spiritually, for it was created first spiritually and then temporally, and spiritually it still remains. And when there we may behold the earth as at the dawn of creation, or we may visit any city we please that exists upon its surface. If we wish to understand how they are living here on these western islands, or in China, we are there; in fact, we are like the light of the morning” (Discoursed of Brigham Young, 380).

Thomas, I know that you and I lived with our Father in Heaven before we were born on this earth. During that time, he taught you and coached you and did everything he could to prepare you for the test of this life. He, you, and I are each infinite beings, though you and I are passing through a finite phase of existence. He has guided us to this important point with all the love of a tender parent. Where we are now is a right of passage of the gods, and those of us who may prove faithful over a few (finite) things, will be made ruler over many (infinite) things (see Matthew 25:14-30). That is how our Father in Heaven came to the station he is in with relation to us. He is not an overbearing general imposing his unkindness upon us, his feeble creations. We are part of an infinite pattern, and this world is going on much the same as other worlds from which gods have been chosen. Will you wake up to the invitation to follow Christ to the regions of light, to live up to your infinite potential? I testify that Christ is the way, and that he restored his narrow gate through Joseph Smith.



How Faith Can Soar to Knowledge

Dear Joseph,

It’s been a while since I’ve written; you’ve given quite a lot of information to digest in your letters to me and there’s just been a lot going on elsewhere in life lately on top of it. But, if I understood your last letter correctly, it all essentially boils down to this: knowing the truth is important. You gave many examples and explanations as for why this was so and what we can do to recognize truth when we see and hear it.

This does not seem to line up with—if not go against—what I’ve been told before, that what we need to truly come close to God is faith—specifically faith without knowledge; I’ve been told that choosing to believe the truth takes more conviction than simply knowing what the truth is.

Be that as it may be, I guess I don’t see the point in God’s forcing us into faith over knowledge either. I mean, doesn’t it take a good deal of self-discipline and/or trust (i.e. faith) to act on the truth you know? Why leave any room for doubt or interpretation whatsoever when it comes to this stuff? What’s worse is that I supposedly knew all the answers to these questions before I was born, in my pre-life existence. But now, purportedly in an effort to move a step forward in my relationship with Christ, I find myself apparently two steps back. This plan seems like a rather buggy one for having come from God himself.

So, if we’re supposed to know the truth, and we’ve got all these wonderful instructions for how to know truth when we’re exposed to it, why go through the whole charade at all? We knew all this already. How does unlearning something just to relearn it move us closer to God? Doesn’t that just put us back where we started to begin with, or at least start us off with a handicap on our journey?  Way back, you told me that the whole point of this life was that it was a proving ground for our faith. But why is faith so terribly important in the first place, as opposed to good ol’ knowledge?


Dear Thomas,

It’s good to hear your voice again (or at least hear it in my head as I read your letter). Your wit and sensibility are as bright and  welcome as ever. You’ve written some very good questions here, and I am so enthused to respond that I can hardly bear to spend another sentence in decorous reminiscence. I hope you won’t mind if I spare humoring you with continued expression of my gladness in receiving word from you again. I trust that you, as ever, can detect my sincerity.

Your questions to me are right in line with what I considered writing to you about anyway if I’d only taken the time to write to you unprompted, as it were. Recall the post script of my last letter:

“I think that I would like to write you another letter soon detailing the differences and relationships between faith, belief, and knowledge since we dipped our toes into it at the end here.”

And you’ve just written to me thusly:

“…Doesn’t it take a good deal of self-discipline and/or trust (i.e. faith) to act on the truth you know?”

I will say firstly: yes, it does. But before we dig deeply into the inner workings of faith, we need to establish some surface-level semantics, some definitions we can mutually accept so that we’re sure we’re on the same page moving forward:

  1. Belief: a principle of trust; a mental, positive decidedness in the unseen;
  2. Faith: (1) a working hope in things that are not seen, but which are true; not a perfect knowledge; (2) a principle of action among all intelligent beings.
  3. Knowledge: a personal witness of the truthfulness to a great degree on a given subject.

Now allow me to illustrate these principles by applying them to the scientific world (often considered a faith-less subject, though that is not the case):

A young and ignorant man entered his first day of biology class. He was early so it was just him and the professor in the room alone. The professor asked what the new student knew of biology to which the young man replied that he comparatively didn’t know his right hand from his left. Astounded, the professor asked if the student had ever heard of microbes and germs. The young man replied that he hadn’t. Still in astonishment, the professor quizzed the young man as to how many organisms he thought were present in the room. (The professor had to explain that an organism was an individual form of life.) The student replied that there were two present: the young man himself and the professor. The professor corrected the young man, saying that there were in fact millions of unseeable organisms present in the room. The young man refused to believe it. The professor produced a microscope from his desk and invited the young man to look into its lens to learn for himself. The young man looked through the scope and then reeled back in fear, exclaiming that he beheld monsters eight feet long. The professor explained that the nature of the microscope was to take the tiny, unseeable organisms around them and make their image large enough for human eyes to behold. With wonder in his mind from the special experience before class, the young man went on to study the unseeable world harder than any of his classmates, and he would eventually go on to become himself a great professor.

I’m sure that you are insightful enough to identify the principles of belief, faith, and knowledge in the above story, but let me draw them out for you to be sure that we have a mutual understanding:

The ignorant young man at first possessed none of the qualities of belief, faith, or knowledge. Even when told by the professor who had himself a knowledge of the millions of organisms around him, the young man refused to believe it. So the professor invited the young man to act. The young man did not know what he would see in the microscope, but he had faith, as demonstrated by his peering into the lens, that following the professor’s commands would result in something. He did not know at first how to interpret what he had seen, but the professor’s explanation helped the young man turn his experience into knowledge. The young man then began his schooling believing in unseen things, having gained a knowledge by faith.

So, Thomas, it is with the unbeliever in revelation, though the roles and tools are somewhat different. The unbeliever does not believe in God, in angels, or in spirits because he cannot see them. But let him exercise faith to peer through a spiritual lens, which comes through obedience to the commandments of God—let him get the Spirit of God, and he then he can see the truth—he can gain a knowledge of spiritual things. It is the same process.

But faith doesn’t end with knowledge! No, definition number (1) of faith is no longer needed when a knowledge is obtained, but definition (2) is (reprinted below for convenience):

Faith: (1) a working hope in things that are not seen, but which are true; not a perfect knowledge; (2) a principle of action among all intelligent beings.

As with the young man who was enabled to begin his study of biology with a knowledge of the unseen world of microorganisms, he then had to ask himself, “Now that I know they are real, what will I do about it?” The response to his knowledge was what I termed in my last letter “the measure” of his faith. The young man could have done any number of things after returning to his seat: he could have dropped out of class; he could have kept his hands off his desk for fear of the germs; or he could even have gone to the microscope for a second, and a third, and a fourth look, trying to disprove the notion that the microscope did what the professor claimed it did. In my example, he chose to believe, which led to faith in higher concepts, which led to knowledge of higher concepts, and so on (a positive loop, upwards and onwards) until he too became a knowledgeable professor. But he could have chosen to disbelieve, and had no faith, and gained no knowledge (a negative loop) and dropped out of class—it would have been the same opportunity but a far different and faithless reaction.

So too it is with the unbeliever in revelation. He may obey the commandments, gain the spirit of God, gain a spiritual witness—a knowledge—of something spiritual, and then choose to disbelieve it, endeavoring to explain it away as a coincidence or nothing special—he could go on a negative loop. Then there is no faith, and the knowledge he once enjoyed is devalued in his mind to the point that he sets it aside as a fluke. Or he could take that witness and choose to believe it, which leads to faith in higher concepts, which leads to action, which leads to knowledge of higher concepts, and so on, riding the positive loop to greater and greater heights, as Joseph Smith said:

“…The nearer man approaches perfection, the clearer are his views, and the greater his enjoyments, till he has overcome the evils of his life and lost every desire for sin; and like the ancients, arrives at that point of faith where he is wrapped in the power and glory of his Maker and is caught up to dwell with Him.
“[…] But we consider that this is a station to which no man ever arrived in a moment: he must have been instructed…” (Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith [STPJS], p.51).

So why doesn’t everybody just get ‘wrapped in the power and glory’ already? Because of what you asked: ‘…Doesn’t it take a good deal of self-discipline and/or trust… to act on the truth you know?’ And my answer: ‘Yes, it does.’ In fact, it takes so much discipline and trust that few people ever submit so fully to the commandments of God that they reach that high station. Hence the scriptures say, “many are called, but few are chosen” (D&C 121:40; Matthew 22:14; see also Matthew 20:16).

(And of course then there’s the opposition, helmed by Satan himself, that makes the opposite course—the downward loop—seem ever so much more attractive and logical and easy. To be certain, this classroom is a battlefield. But let’s not get into that side of things for the moment.)

Thomas, you also said this:

“This plan seems like a rather buggy one for having come from God himself…. If we’re supposed to know the truth, and we’ve got all these wonderful instructions for how to know truth when we’re exposed to it, why go through the whole charade at all? We knew all this already. How does unlearning something just to relearn it move us closer to God?”

I tell you, those are such beautiful questions. I could read them over and over all day!

To answer them, let me share with you another story:

There was once a beautiful eagle that could soar higher than all the other birds in the forest. This majestic creature had powerful wings that enabled it to fly high to its lofty heights while all the other birds and creatures of the woods watched in awe. One day an inquisitive blue jay perched near the eagle’s home to await an audience with the grand fowl. The blue jay had struggled to reach the eagle’s nest as it was located high atop a lonesome cliff where the wind blew ferociously. And at such a perilous spot he was surprised to find three large eggs. The eagle suddenly and gracefully returned to her nest and stared intently at the blue jay.
“Why are you here?” the eagle demanded.
“I’ve come to ask thee a question, mighty eagle,” quivered the tiny blue jay. “How is it that thine wings art able to take thee so high?”
“Have you not wings?” came the eagle’s swift reply.
“I have, but they cannot carry me as thine doth carry thee.”
“Return on the morning of the third day, and I will show you my secret.”
The nervous blue jay reverently bowed and then flapped away, down to his forest home below. Three days later, as the sun was beginning to rise, the blue jay returned to the eagle’s lofty home. He was surprised to find that instead of three eggs in the nest there were three tiny eagles. The mother eagle’s eggs had hatched while the blue jay had been away. The eagle gave a sharp look at the blue jay and then stepped aside so that he could see what the little eagles were doing. When the strong wind would race up the cliff wall and threaten the little eagles’ stances, they would open their wings and let the gust lift them off their feet. Again and again the strong wind would cause the young eagles to practice soaring little by little. To the blue jay’s estimation, they were already better than he at soaring. The mother eagle then focused her steely eye on the blue jay, and said,
“My secret is that my mother taught me to spread my wings into the wind, not to fear the boisterous gale; and that has made all the difference.”

“…The eagle’s nest… was located high atop a lonesome cliff where the wind blew ferociously.”

In the preexistence, we developed many attributes and talents (note: not talons). We learned about mortality and the process we would have to undergo here to become like our Father in Heaven. Though I wouldn’t claim that we ‘knew [it] all… already’ before this life, we knew quite a bit that we had to forget (Again, the only way for us to continue to grow was to come to earth and experience the viscisitudes of mortality [remember, there was no other way]). But even with all of that knowledge before this life, there was at least one grand bit of knowledge we did not and could not possess: the ability to exercise faith.

You said:

“Way back, you told me that the whole point of this life was that it was a proving ground for our faith. But why is faith so terribly important in the first place, as opposed to good ol’ knowledge?”

Yes, this life is a proving ground for our faith because it couldn’t be proved in the preexistence, and without faith, we cannot soar. In the preexistence we were like baby eagles with wings inside of eggs—we had studied all about faith, but couldn’t properly learn how to use it until we had a chance to try it. So we are born in a world where most spiritual things—certainly the heavenly variety—are unseen, and nothing but faith manifest in works (obedience to the commandments; see James 2:14-18) can remove the veil. The earth is perched upon the windy cliffs of sin and opposition so that we might learn to prize the heavenly and exercise faith unto salvation. And if we can do it, we too will soar like our Father in Heaven soars.

Put another way, all the knowledge in the world—all of the book smarts about how to ride a bicycle—means nothing if we cannot ourselves go out to a bicycle and ride it, putting that learning into practice. You might want to see the face of God—perhaps the equivalent of doing a superman on a BMX bike—but you ‘must have been instructed’ from the basics of simply pedaling to get to that point.

Remember how I once wrote to you about how you sustained Christ as king before this life? You would not be here now had you not made that vitally important decision—the right decision—once before. You certainly had quite a bit of knowledge back then, though you’ve had to forget it for now. The test now is to sustain Christ but in faith—which consequently can turn to a knowledge in this life. The existence of that potential does not negate the necessity of faith, but it provides a hope that your works will lead to something important, even life eternal. Does the scripture say, “And this is life eternal, that they might have faith in thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent”? No; importantly it reads: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3, emphasis added).

“How does unlearning something just to relearn it move us closer to God?”

Someday, the veil will be removed from our minds fully, and we will exclaim that God has been perfectly just in all his dealings with man. At that time, our previous learning will come back to us—we will realize that ‘unlearning’ did not take place. Some will have spread their wings of faith and will have taken flight to ‘power and glory,’ and others will have languished in fear, submitting instead to Satan’s temptations to disbelieve and ultimately fail the test (see Abraham 3:26). And in these you will discover the true meaning of fire and brimstone, as Joseph Smith taught:

“The great misery of [the wicked]… after death, is to know that they come short of the glory that others enjoy and that they might have enjoyed themselves, and they are their own accusers.
“[…] A man is his own tormenter and his own condemner…. The torment of disappointment in the mind of man is as exquisite as a lake burning with fire and brimstone” (STPJS, pp. 310-311, 357).

Endeavor with all the faith you can muster, even the smallest grain, to obey the commandments of God, and I can promise you that the knowledge will come, which leads to greater belief, greater faith, and eventually greater knowledge, until you come to eternal life. I make that promise because of the knowledge that I have received from God. The lens of the spirit works. Someday, sooner or later, you will remember it. Hopefully it’s sooner rather than later so that the reception of that memory will be one of joy and not of disappointment.

I ever pray for you as a brother in faith,


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:


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.


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


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.


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.


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.