Replies to Thomas

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Heavenly Mother

Born in Heaven long ago, a daughter;
Taught on a mother’s lap to love the right,
She vowed not to forget her alma mater,
For war came to the door mid dark and light.

While siblings fell from home, her choice was made
To follow Father, God, who gave his plan:
To birth on earth, be mortal; he gently bade;
Female forever, a goddess began.

Born of a sister, through a veil of tears,
She too brought forth both sister and brother;
Loving truth and light through all of her years,
She also became Heavenly Mother.

To her you were born as spirit eternal;
The path you now tread is pattern maternal.

Happy Mothers Day

Annie Henrie _ paintings

Painting by Annie Henrie Nader

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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

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

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

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