Replies to Thomas

Category: sin

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.

rain_in_the_garden_by_darkosikman

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The Devil Told the Truth

Dear Joseph,

“…The original Hebrew word for ‘created,’ as found in [Genesis 1:1], does not actually mean ‘to make’ as we often assume it does. It means ‘to organize.'”

Very interesting, I had never heard this before.

I’m also interested to learn from that Wikipedia article about Genesis 1:1 that the Hebrew word “Elohim” is closer to the English word “god” than the English word “God.” This translation fits in better with the God-was-an-ancient-astronaut theory that’s become popular lately, what with those Ancient Aliens-type shows on TV and all.

Kind of makes me wonder about who Adam and Eve were too. Why doesn’t God want us to learn deeper truths? Is He afraid that if we find out the truth we won’t respect him the way he wants us to? If we find him out he won’t be able to control us anymore? It’s these kinds of shady wordings that make me wonder if he’s just trying to pull the wool over our eyes.

You know, I can’t read Hebrew (yet…), but you’d think that in the couple-thousand pages of The Bible we’d find some other passages to explain what was happening during the first couple pages. Someone could have at least tried to tie it in to the big Bible-thumping topics of death, Hell, or maybe even Jesus Himself, maybe?

—Thomas


Dear Thomas,

Yes, knowing a bit of Hebrew can be very enlightening. There’s a lot more to learn as one considers upon all of the implications that the word “Elohim” brings to our interpretation of the creation, but it would take several more letters to properly introduce the subject. It is an important one though, so I will be sure to bring it back up if we get away from that topic in our future discourse. Suffice it to say for now that you are straddling some deep truths, one of which is the fact that it is not only more similar to the English “god” rather than “God,” but that it is actually plural, therefore meaning “gods.”

“I saw a humorous meme recently that depicted God as a cartoonish caricature with the caption: ‘Create the entire universe out of nothing; need Adam’s rib to make one more thing.’ That made me wonder, how can God get away with that one?”

I want to return to this idea of Eve being created from Adam’s rib. In my last letter to you I explained that God does not create from nothing but organizes from preexisting matter. So what are the implications with the creation of Eve? How did God make an entire person from a rib?

But before I continue, I want to be sure of one thing: your kids were delivered by a stork like mine, right?

When we as parents tell our children that they were delivered by a stork, what we are really doing is speaking to a child about a subject that we cannot fully explain without a much deeper conversation that would get their little minds focused on a subject far outside what we want them to be focused on, right? Likewise, when God explained to Moses, the author of Genesis, how the world was created, He explained it in terms the mind of man could comprehend—for now. If Jesus Christ taught in parables to reach multiple levels of comprehension at once, would we not expect the premortal Jehovah to also so teach?

Was the world created in six days, as we know them, or were there six generally-divisible periods that Moses used the word “day” to describe? The geologic record, so far as it is interpreted correctly, seems to indicate the latter.

Were the heavens and the earth created at the same time, the “beginning,” or have the “heavens” been around a lot longer than the earth? The cosmic record, so far as it is interpreted correctly, seems to indicate the latter.

God knows the answers to such questions as these, and He also considers them to matter less to us, His children, than the clearer fact that He was at the head of it all.

It’s not that God doesn’t “want us to learn the deeper truths”—He desires to share with us greater truth and light on the subject—but He must wait until we are prepared. The fact that the Hebrew version of the creation makes bare some of the deeper truths by virtue of the language itself should be evidence enough that God is not arbitrarily “pulling the wool over our eyes.” The same goes for the creation of Adam and Eve: there is a deeper understanding (that, frankly, is slightly clearer in the original Hebrew), but, like the truth behind the stork that delivered you and me, it is meant for spiritually matured minds.

Most of Christianity looks down upon Adam, and especially Eve, for committing the first sin, the “original sin,” and believes that life wouldn’t be so hard for the rest of us if it wasn’t for their introduced of sin into the world. This is an old sectarian notion and is false. In all actuality, this couldn’t be further from the truth: “Adam fell that men might be” (2 Nephi 2:25, emphasis added).

If you’ve come to know the devil and his tactics in your life (and we all have by virtue of being on earth), I will open your eyes to the fact that he hasn’t changed his ways in the five- or six-thousand years since the day he tempted Eve: the devil will tell nine truths to get someone to accept one lie. “What!” the world will exclaim, “the devil tell a truth?” Yes, if that’s what he must do tell a lie—one more lie than God would ever give. In Genesis 3:4-5 we get to hear Satan do just that:

“And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:
“For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”

The one lie here was that neither Eve nor Adam should “surely die;” the rest was true. Let me give you some context: Adam and Eve were created in the Garden in a state of innocence and, well, we’ll call it ignorant bliss—like someone who eats only ramen noodles every day, it’s not until they taste filet mignon that they realize just how good something can taste; conversely, it’s not until they taste dirt and crab grass that they realize just how good ramen noodles can taste. In other words, we cannot know the sweet until we taste the bitter. God designed the mortal experience that we each go through (not just Adam and Eve) to be the bitter, that we might become like Him (and “the gods,” as the devil mentioned [think Elohim here]), “knowing good and evil.”

That’s what this life is about: we are on to the next stage of becoming like our Father in Heaven, the father of our spirits. Adam and Eve didn’t make a mistake, they made a decision.

Note, for instance, in the next verse, Genesis 3:6, it doesn’t say that Eve “fell for the serpent” or “was deceived in that moment” or something, but that she “saw” that what the serpent said was mostly true, meaning that she logically analyzed her situation and made her own decision. In our doctrine, we praise Eve for making the decision that would allow us the opportunity to not only know the sweet, but to receive a physical body at all. There is an even deeper layer of symbolism we could delve into with respect to this decision, particularly pertaining to why Adam and Eve could not create children before it, but suffice it to say that, like them, it is crucial that we are introduced to a fallen world—something far different than the Garden of Eden—to take that next step towards becoming like our Father in Heaven (recall the council in Heaven).

However, the fall of Adam truly brought sickness and death and sin into the world, which could truly be considered as a step away from God, but without it—without opposition—we could not be tested to progress in an eternal sense. You wouldn’t take a test with the a copy of the answer key open on every student’s desk (at least, that wouldn’t be much of a test), and likewise we cannot be tested within the confines of the Garden of Eden—a place where God Himself could come and walk about; life is a closed-book test, and we are separated from God by the very nature of this sinful world.

So, if a fall away from God was needed to get the test started, and we have Adam and Eve to thank for that, how do we un-fall if we pass the test? How can Adam’s decision be praiseworthy when all we’ve got to show for it now is death, disease, and sin?

Actually, this—the nature of our current fallen state and all—was known from the “beginning.” In the council of “the gods” before the world was (the afore mentioned council in Heaven), a plan was presented whereby we could return to God’s presence—with Adam and Eve too—despite all of our unworthy, mortal baggage. The central figure of that plan is none other than Jesus Christ, our savior and redeemer.

Christ was chosen in the premortal council in Heaven to be the “Atoning One,” the person who could bring us back “At-one” (atone) with God—the only one who had the power to swallow up our death, disease, and sin. For that reuniting with and inheriting of the Father and His glory to be complete, it was known far in advance that we would need bodies of flesh and bone (like the Father has) and no uncleanliness (like the Father is). Adam and Eve then came to get the process started whereby we could do just that, and in so doing they become archetypes of the journey we are all taking:

  • They forgot all, and we have forgotten all;
  • They came to a fallen world to know good from evil, and we come to a fallen world to know good from evil;
  • They gained bodies of flesh and blood (which blood is signified in scripture as a symbol of “corruption”), and we now have bodies of flesh and blood;
  • They will be resurrected to immortality and bodies of flesh and bone (without blood, or a body of “incorruption,” like the father), and we too shall be resurrected to the same;
  • They had their sins remitted through obedience to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and we too may so choose to become clean and thus enabled to enter into the Father’s presence.

“…You’d think that in the couple-thousand pages of The Bible we’d find some other passages to explain what was happening during the first couple pages. Someone could have at least tried to tie it in to the big Bible-thumping topics of death, Hell, or maybe even Jesus Himself, maybe?”

Maybe with the context I have laid, these words of Paul, found in 1 Corinthians 15:45-54, will perhaps make more sense to you than they have in the past:

“The first man [Adam] is of the earth, earthy: the second man [Jesus Christ] is the Lord from heaven….
“And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.
“Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.
“Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
“In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
“For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
“So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.”

With this doctrinal foundation laid, we can talk in a little more depth about what really happened during the creation.

—Joseph

Wild Beasts That Are Past Feeling

Dear Joseph,

“The murder discussion will be a lengthy one to pursue at the moment. But suffice it to say—again, for the moment—that our conscience is God-given. The first time you do something that is even minutely wrong, you can feel it, but if you ignore that feeling and continue to sin more and more, that feeling will become numb to you.”

I’m thinking of cultures with human sacrifice as a part of their religious rituals. The Aztecs, for instance. By all accounts, even the sacrificial humans themselves were honored to be chosen as a sacrifice. A person born into this culture and trained in the priesthood (or whatever they called it) would have no compuctions against taking a human life under the right circumstances. And I don’t think the concept requires that extreme an example. Take, instead, the Hashashin (the organization from who’s name the modern word “assassin” is derived). These assassins were trained from childhood into an ideological belief system wherein killing specific people for specific reasons was considered a god-mandated assignment. Having not been raised in such a way, I can only take a guess, but it seems to me that if one were trained to murder by professional murderers, that one wouldn’t have the usual hesitations about taking human life.

In my Psychology 101 class oh-so-many years ago, we learned about an illegal study that was done by an self-proclaimed scientist who raised his own child from infancy in his attic without ever allowing the child any human contact at all. I Googled for the specific case, but there were a shocking number of similar stories and, without being able to recall names, dates, or locations, I had no idea which one was the one we were told about in my class. Anyway, by the time he was arrested and the then-adolescent child rescued, the poor kid was irreparably psychologically damaged. He was no different from a wild animal, but without the benefit of the more advanced instincts most animals are born with. So, the point is, very much of what we take for granted about our human nature is actually learned from those around us. If those around us are teaching us that typically taboo things are not just okay but even encouraged, it would be almost certain that we would not have any inner-turmoil over doing those things.

You know, nobody around here wants to talk theology with me because they assume I’m implacably opposed to it just because I dare to ask questions that cast doubt. And if they can’t save my soul, they figure there’s no point talking to me about it. Well, how’s “because it’s fascinating” for a reason? So, thank you again for taking the time to actually write to me about things others dare not approach. It’s been fun! Why don’t we continue our discussion around the theology of the creation? That one there’s a tricky one to approach without finding loop holes at every turn of God’s thinking.

For example, I saw a humorous meme recently that depicted God as a cartoonish caricature with the caption: “Create the entire universe out of nothing; need Adam’s rib to make one more thing.” That made me wonder, how can God get away with that one? Can’t exactly say that Genesis had a typo there.

—Thomas

P.S.

I like that Smith quote, I’ve never heard that before.


Dear Thomas,

We have a lot to cover here, and it would be perhaps better to split the content I have in mind into two letters, but I really cannot wait to broach the subject of the creation, so I might just touch upon it at the end of this letter.

“[There was an] ideological belief system wherein killing specific people for specific reasons was considered a god-mandated assignment…. If one were trained to murder by professional murderers… one wouldn’t have the usual hesitations about taking human life.”

This may be true, but I am sure that the first murder committed by an apprentice of such a society would still be accompanied by instinctual remorse. This is the light of Christ being extinguished by the mind raised to ignore it. In The Book of Mormon, the entire society of the Nephites (the people who once considered themselves to be the people of God) descends into a pitiful shadow of its former self. In their wickedness, these Nephites become a murderous and blood-thirsty people. The prophets of God, who once could preach with great efficacy to call the people to repent from their sins, found themselves unable to even stir the hearts of their audiences, who naturally proceed to try and kill these holy men. The term one prophet uses to describe the state of these people is “past feeling,” in other words, they collectively extinguished the Light of Christ.

I guess that the point I want to bring up here is that the topics of judgement—as in final judgement—and wickedness may be two slightly different topics. Let me elaborate: are the criteria by which God will finally judge our hearts the same as the criteria by which His standards and commandments are measured? The answer is actually yes, so far as one is aware of the criteria. This means that though a man may not be held accountable for the laws he did not receive in his life, those laws still exist to define happiness and wickedness; and wickedness never was happiness.

With this understanding, a society of murderers that raises little murderers is truly a wicked society if murder is a sin, but at the judgement bar they will not be judged for that wickedness like those who knew murder was sin. In this assassin society’s case, the greatest condemnation will be heaped upon the heads of those who started the society since they made the decision to break away from a standard of righteousness (assuming they were exposed to such, as these kinds of societies often are [again, this kind of thing is in The Book of Mormon]).

But there’s a another issue at hand:

When the judgement is passed and the time to return to God’s presence has come, will the society of murderers feel very comfortable in the Celestial Kingdom, where no unclean thing can bear to remain? Not unless they repent—and I don’t mean in an accountability kind of way, but in a change of heart kind of way. This re-emphasizes the need to be taught God’s principles and laws during this life when it is easiest to prepare for the lifestyle of Heaven (you can repent after this life, but it is much harder to do without your body as it turns out).

The subject here then becomes one of paradisiacal culture shock. A quote from the famous writer C. S. Lewis may serve to explain this idea further:

“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

It is easier to be lustful and appetite-satisfying than it is to reign in those passions. Those passions are part of what makes our bodies powerful tools to the soul, when harnessed appropriately. As I wrote to you a while ago, part of what separated us before this life, as spirit children, from our Heavenly Father was the fact that He had a body and we did not. He has perfect control of His body, and if we are to have the ‘infinite joy’ He experiences, we are required to learn how to control our bodies like He does.

Unfortunately, God’s enemy, the devil, knows all too well what we are capable of experiencing, and he seeks (as he has ever sought) to use the tool of our very exaltation to bring about our damnation. Simply put, his strategy is to keep us out of Celestial glory by getting us to let loose of the reigns of the body, to go from being ‘half-hearted creatures’ to full-hearted wild beasts. The devil’s secret weapon is the fact that he can easily confuse us to recognize all pleasure as happiness. This is Hollywood’s message: letting loose the reigns feels good; wickedness is happiness.

“… Very much of what we take for granted about our human nature is actually learned from those around us. If those around us are teaching us that typically taboo things are not just okay but even encouraged, it would be almost certain that we would not have any inner-turmoil over doing those things.”

Inner-turmoil aside, you’ve hit the nail on the head here. The question to consider then is this: if our environment can totally affect our lives, what can save us from becoming ‘full-hearted wild beasts’ that are ‘past feeling’? What can save us from becoming finer society for the devil and his angels than for gods?

I have heard of cases of total child neglect similar to the one you mentioned in your letter. I can recall a case or two of children who wandered into the forest as toddlers and wandered back out as adolescents but, like you said, almost “no different than a wild animal.” It is absolutely true that an environment can dictate, to a great degree, who someone may become as a person. I don’t think it will affect every part of a human’s nature, but the evidence is there to show us that environment is pivotal to human development.

What comprises environment then? Among many things, and perhaps foremost among them, is parenting. You may recall my words at the end of my last letter, but now add to it the emphasis of the evidence you bring to witness here: “The responsibility to raise children in righteousness is one of the most important charges God has put into the hands of mankind” for without it mankind would descend into a savage state. A state where murder becomes acceptable, as also, like you said of the Aztecs, offering human sacrifices to idols (which the Nephites in their depraved and wicked condition did also).

Though a man in such society may somehow avoid all contact with truth and God’s laws all of his life, it cannot be said that in the end he is righteous according to Heaven. He will not be judged for breaking a rule he didn’t know, but he will still have to set aside his ‘mud pies’ if he is to go on to that great ‘holiday at the sea’ with God. And he will have the opportunity to do so if he desires it. That decision may look like a no-brainer from here, but approaching God requires sacrifice (not the Aztec kind), and it’s much easier and much more appealing to stay in the mud when faced with true, sanctifying sacrifice (a great topic for a future missive).

“You know, nobody around here wants to talk theology with me because they assume I’m implacably opposed to it just because I dare to ask questions that cast doubt. And if they can’t save my soul, they figure there’s no point talking to me about it. Well, how’s ‘because it’s fascinating’ for a reason?”

That’s as worthy a reason as any if you ask me. Lucky for you, I do like to ‘talk theology,’ as you know.

“Why don’t we continue our discussion around the theology of the creation? That one there’s a tricky one to approach without finding loop holes at every turn of God’s thinking.”

As I said at the start of this letter, I will only dip into this subject for the length and the heaviness of the topic so far. Nevertheless, let’s take a short peak at the beginning (if there is one…):

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1)

Mormon theology correctly recalls the seldom recognized fact that the original Hebrew word for ‘created,’ as found in the verse above, does not actually mean “to make” as we often assume it does. It means “to organize” (see the Wikipedia article for Genesis 1:1 and look under “bara”). As such, it is important to first recognize that there is no such thing as a creation “ex nihilo” but that such a notion is a man-made concept, and that it is not true to say that God ever made something from nothing.

—Joseph