Replies to Thomas

The Devil’s Rebuttal

Dear Joseph,

Lately there’s been a lot of discussion in the media about identity. It’s made me think about what you have written before, that I am supposedly a son of God. But when I look about myself, I find that I am evidently just a menial laborer barely scraping by to provide for my family. No goodness here; no greatness here.

You know, I tried praying and fasting, like the Elders told me to do, to see if I was really a son of God. I don’t think they expected my answer: fear. Fear and a little loathing for the blows dealt me over the years that haven’t landed me that executive job in the big city. Thanks for all of that, God.

Maybe you are; but am I not a son of God? I seem to have been made for lesser things.

—Thomas


Dear Thomas,

First things first: we are all children of God. Identity theft has been Satan’s big gig lately, and he’s really stealing the show in our generation—and he’s laughing about it. I’m going to share a story with you that will demonstrate why this particular peculation is so damning.

In the Book of Moses, which is the first few chapters of Genesis with restored material (including some serious prologue), there is an encounter between Moses and Satan that is very applicable to your situation and feelings. In the spirit of Nephi, I will “liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning” (1 Nephi 19:23).

In his instructive, typical experience, Moses, having first been enlightened by the truth of God’s existence, is tempted of the devil—he is given the choice of the two paths: “Satan came tempting him, saying: Moses, son of man, worship me” (Moses 1:12). As the Book of Mormon principally enumerates, “Man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other”—good or evil, God or Satan, etc. (2 Nephi 2:16). In other words, Moses can now demonstrate where his loyalties lie—he can prove his metal. No one can be considered to be truly good unless he has had evil presented before him and he has rejected it; likewise, no one can be considered truly evil unless he has had opportunity to refuse the good. The candle’s light is only bright when compared to the darkness that surrounds it.

So it appears that Moses has a simple task before him: refuse the devil—cast out the evil influence. And this he does, though the fight is far from over. Moses says:

“Who art thou? For behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten; and where is thy glory, that I should worship thee?… Get thee hence, Satan; deceive me not; for God said unto me: Thou art after the similitude of mine Only Begotten…. Depart hence, Satan” (Moses 1:13,16,18).

In essence, Moses is saying what you said, Thomas, though in a more certain tone, ‘Am I not a son of God?’ The implication being that if he is a son of God—if any of us are—then his very nature ought to point his affections and worship to his Father in Heaven and no one else. Yet we are tempted away from that; yet Moses was tempted away from that. Mark it well: the presence of temptation does not constitute inherent evil in our hearts—it is part of our earthly visa. Even Moses, surely one of the greatest prophets to ever live, was tempted of the adversary (as also the Savior, as we shall read).

But, as stated above, the fight doesn’t end with Moses’ refusal to give in to the devil’s demands. After being cast out, something peculiar—yet, again, typical—occurs between the devil and Moses. I call it “The Devil’s Rebuttal.” It is an identifiable pattern in the lives of those who attempt to draw close to God and choose the good path in their daily choosing. Yet it is a subtle and easily misidentified reaction, often considered a reemergent aspect of an inherent evil as opposed to an outside attack.

“And now, when Moses had said these words, Satan cried with a loud voice, and ranted upon the earth, and commanded, saying: I am the Only Begotten, worship me. And it came to pass that Moses began to fear exceedingly; and as he began to fear, he saw the bitterness of hell” (Moses 1:19-20).

Now, I know I just said this is a ‘subtle’ reaction though the scripture describes Satan as ‘ranting’ with a ‘loud voice,’ but keep in mind that Moses’ spiritual eyes were open and he could see what most other mortals only feel, which feeling is usually dim and uncertain depending on our spiritual experience. Consider this: if Satan were to scream in your ear, “Thomas, you are nothing!” would you note the intensity of his tone or the depth of what you begin to feel is your nothingness? What I’m trying to say is that though we typically misidentify the source of these feelings in ourselves due to spiritual ignorance, the reality beyond the visible is that Satan’s counterattack is a violent retaliation, and we only sense it in our heart and mind (our spirit).

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“If thou…wilt worship me, all shall be thine.”

Though we are typically unaware of Satan’s workings, Moses’ described feelings are certainly relatable: he experienced ‘exceeding’ fear and felt a bitterness that could only be described as hellish. And this is “The Devil’s Rebuttal.” It isn’t enough for us to have chosen the better path—to run from Satan’s temptation—but he chases after us and tries to tell us that the choice was wrong after having made the choice. In this case, Moses emphasized that his knowledge of his true identity (‘I am a son of God, in the similitude of [the] Only Begotten’) made Satan’s offer of worshipping him the obvious wrong choice, which led to the rebuttal, ‘[No,] I am the only begotten, worship me’!

The Devil’s Rebuttal was designed to undo Moses’ convictions.

But how could any argument stand against the very bodily witness of God and inspire fear and bitterness? The answer comes in knowing that Satan is the god of this world (see Luke 4:5-6). This world, with its temporary fads and fashions, its towers of wealth, and its pillars of learning, worships a god that is not our Father in Heaven (see 1 John 5:19; D&C 84:49). Satan has dominion over the whole of the earth for now, and so he can rightly be called the god of this world, sometimes referred to spiritually as “Babylon.”

In other words, the world at large has given in to the Devil’s Rebuttal, and they have set up Satan as the only begotten, the one to be worshipped. (This could lead us into the whole identity debate that’s raging right now, but we’ll leave that for another time.)

And with this influence at his sway, the devil can fill our minds with his false credentials, attempting to authoritatively “put us in our place,” so to speak; to use his priesthood to remind us of our nothingness in his kingdom; to bring us to our knees in desperation and resignation when he forces us to realize that we have been seeking the wrong kingdom if it was not his.

If Satan had power to inspire Moses with fear and bitterness, then he can surely bring others of us mortals low with his influence. He makes each of us feel as though we were created ‘for lesser things’ (trust me, it’s not just you).

It may sound strange to your ears, Thomas, if you—as I—have never physically heard the loud voice of a unembodied spirit ranting upon the earth, to think that our own feelings of shortcomings and inadequacies come from a real, foreign source, designed to keep us from lifting our eyes above the horizon of this world. But think of the towering skyscrapers of New York City, or the showy cufflinks of successful suits, or of big returns on smart investments, and so on. All the worldly things you’ve ever wanted, even if just for your family’s sake, any of these things—all of these things—are just the Devil’s illusory kingdom, and the honest seeker of truth will find himself tempted by such things (just as Moses), tempted to worship mammon (Luke 16:13).

When we encounter the Devil’s Rebuttal, he shows us our lowliness in all of his kingdom, which is all of his power, and he says to us:

“All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine” (Luke 4:6-7, emphasis added).

What do you do then, Thomas, when all the world is turned against your spirit to inspire fear and to question your path? You reply as the Savior and as Moses did:

“And Jesus answered and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve” (Luke 4:8).

“Nevertheless, calling upon God, [Moses] received strength, and he commanded, saying: Depart from me, Satan, for this one God only will I worship, which is the God of glory” (Moses 1:20-21).

Remind yourself, and Satan (while you’re at it), that you are a Son of God, a stranger and a pilgrim in his world (see Hebrews 11:13), and that your destination and kingdom are not of his world (see John 8:23; 15:19). And then press on as he “rage quits” and tries to make you flinch. He has no power next to the God of endless worlds (our Father). It may take more fasting and praying, and certainly studying the scriptures, but such things constitute that ‘worship’ Moses and the Savior both refused to yield when Satan demanded attention.

I can promise, Thomas, that if you will turn your heart to God fully daily—and especially in the face of violent, ranting opposition—you will receive of a strength and a knowledge of that Father you’ve only forgotten. As Moses experienced after Satan finally left him:

“And it came to pass that when Satan had departed from the presence of Moses, that Moses lifted up his eyes unto heaven, being filled with the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of the Father and the Son; and calling upon the name of God, he beheld his glory again, for it was upon him; and he heard a voice, saying: ‘Blessed art thou, Moses…. And lo, I am with thee, even unto the end of thy days….’ And behold, the glory of the Lord was upon Moses, so that Moses stood in the presence of God, and talked with him face to face” (Moses 1:24-26,31, single quote marks added).

—Joseph

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The Seed Must Die: Creation in His Image

Dear Joseph,

I like what you’ve written to me about the need for faith, but I still find myself surrounded by evidences that God, as a supreme controller of all things (nature, human affairs, etc.), is cruel and unfair. For one, he put you and I into this cold and lonely world and then gave us sickness and infirmity, old age and all manner of undeserved harshness, on top of that.

If this is what it means to be “created in his image,” then why have him as my father? All he appears capable of producing is a sad world of hurt.

—Thomas


 

Dear Thomas,

“And verily I say unto thee that thou shalt lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better” (Doctrine and Covenants 25:10).

The commandment above is the theme of my letter to you, Thomas, and your ability to fulfill it will be at the root of your possible reconciliation with God. I assure you that at some day (hopefully sooner than the “last day”), you will recognize that our Father in Heaven is neither ‘cruel’ nor ‘unfair,’ but fair, loving, and wise in all his affairs with his children, whose names and circumstances he knows, including yours.

But his knowledge of even all things does not diminish or absolve your responsibility to choose him and to set aside your sins that you may regain his presence.

Now, there is a question found in the Bible whose answer, I believe, will help you understand how it is that God will be called “just” by all his Children at some future day. It was a question that Paul endeavored to answer, telling the Christians at Corinth that this question was going to arise among them (disclaimer: I’m going to assume in all of this that you understand that what is meant by “the resurrection” is a return of the spirits of all mankind to their bodies, per Christ’s actual, physical resurrection):

“But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?” (1 Corinthians 15:35).

To which question Paul gives a terse but revealing answer regarding the nature of our short, mortal existence:

“Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die” (1 Cor. 15:36).

Question: as humans what do we sow? Answer: other humans (children), who are then racked with ‘sickness and infirmity, old age and all manner of undeserved harshness,’ as you pointed out in your letter. Sowing seed as an analogy of human reproduction is key to understanding the rest of what Paul is talking about, as you will see.

Also note: what does it mean to be ‘quickened’? The Greek term is ζῳοποιέω zóopoieó, which means “to vivify” or “to animate,” and it is often used in reference to the notion of being alive.

With this understanding, let’s rephrase the above verse in extremely plain terms remembering that Paul is answering the question of the nature of a resurrected body:

“Thou fool, [the bodies] that are produced in our lifetimes are not fully alive unless they [first] die.”

This seems to be a strange state of things: our bodies are not alive unless they are first dead? What could Paul mean? Luckily he continues his explanation:

“And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain:
“But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body” (1 Cor. 15:37-38).

When a man plants a seed in a field, it is beyond plain that he is not sticking the final result into the ground (e.g. a stalk of wheat, or some other grain) but the necessary beginning of that which shall be. According to Paul, it is the same with our mortal bodies: they are the seeds to something greater that is yet to be, and yet mortality is necessary (on multiple levels, if you recall). Moreover, whatever that thing ‘to be’ is, it is given of God—and not to man—’to every seed his own body.’

A little later in the chapter, Paul continues to drive the point home that the species of man is not and can not be fully developed in mortality (i.e. before death; before resurrection), and he does so with the sustained motif of our current bodies being mere seeds. In fact, he goes on to say that our present state, besides being temporary—or preparatory—is also marked by its weak and frail setting, which shall not always abide:

“[The body] is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption:
“It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory:
it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:
“It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:42-44).

(Take solace in at least that knowledge, Thomas: ‘sickness and infirmity, old age and all manner of undeserved harshness’ is temporary! You will one day see that the suffering in body you go through now is not only a brief moment in grand scheme of things but also very instructive.)

But what shall this seed of a body eventually become? If we are merely in “seed form” (or, more aptly, embryo) at this time, ‘with what body shall [we] come’ when we are ‘quickened’ after death? Paul explains:

“All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds.
Also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial, and bodies telestial; but the glory of the celestial, one; and the terrestrial, another; and the telestial, another.
“There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory” (JST 1 Cor. 15:39-41, italics added).

Paul wants to make it abundantly clear that what will be—what we will be—is, to borrow the modern phrase, “an entirely different animal” from what we are now. And he literally uses the examples of various classes of animal life to reinforce the idea. In effect, he says that as things now stand we have humans, which are a thing different from bears, which are a thing different from dolphins, which are a thing different from sparrows. And where does all this lead? It leads to the continued statement that inasmuch as those things are wholly different from one another (though all are forms of ‘flesh’), there will be different types of ‘bodies’ given to mankind in their resurrected, final state that will be things wholly different from one another, here described as ‘celestial,’ ‘terrestrial,’ and ‘telestial’ bodies (note that this last term is added by Joseph Smith through divine revelation).

Now, these three differing ‘glories’ of bodies (as Paul puts it) provide the answer to the two questions he first predicted would be asked of him: ‘[1] how are the dead raised up? and [2] with what body do they come?’ Let us consider his answer to the latter first (number two).

We’ve already established that Paul considers our present bodies to be the embryos of something mature to come, and now he is telling us that this full-grown form will come in one of at least three general kinds. He continues to elaborate on their distinguishing feature—their degree of glory—by comparing each one to the apparent magnitude of easily differentiated luminaries: the sun (by and far the brightest), the moon (far less bright), and the stars (quite dim). We are to understand, by further revelation, that this is a reference to the very nature of resurrected bodies, some being of a higher quality or power than others:

“And they who are not sanctified through the law which I have given unto you, even the law of Christ, must inherit another kingdom [other than the celestial kingdom], even that of a terrestrial kingdom, or that of a telestial kingdom.
“For he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory.
“And he who cannot abide the law of a terrestrial kingdom cannot abide a terrestrial glory.
“And he who cannot abide the law of a telestial kingdom cannot abide a telestial glory…” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:21-24, emphasis added).

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Borrowing the names Paul uses in describing the degrees of resurrected glory (i.e. celestial, terrestrial, and telestial), the above revelation states that the type of body one receives at the resurrection will determine the level of Heaven one can be admitted to (Paul spoke of the “third heaven” once, which corresponds to the ‘celestial kingdom’ named above; I have written to you about these levels or degrees before).

Now that we have it established that our fully grown stature will be one of three general forms—with the kind designated as celestial being the greatest of all of these (by a long shot if we’re talking about a difference commensurate to the change in magnitude between the sun and moon), terrestrial being the middle, and telestial the least—we can turn to Paul’s answer of the first question he posed for himself (number [1], above): ‘how are the dead raised up?’ The answer is in the names he gave the types of bodies that will be in the resurrection: celestial, terrestrial, and telestial.

The original Greek that Paul used for these words is known for two of the words, namely: celestial and terrestrial. Those words were ἐπουράνια epourania (“heavenly”) and ἐπίγεια epigeia (“earthly”), respectively. The King James translators, for whatever reason, rendered these instances of the words in their Latin/Old French forms, familiar to us today for their continued usage in modern English, but in other places in the King James Version of the Bible the words are rendered as heavenly and earthly, respectively, as they literally mean such.

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“If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not?” (1 Cor. 15:32).

The third term, however, telestial, is, as mentioned before, a product of revelation through the prophet Joseph Smith. The term first appears (in conjunction with the other two, known terms) in a revelation he received concerning the resurrection of the dead while revising the Bible where necessary, going through it verse by verse, through direction from God. Sometime later, when reaching the verses of 1 Corinthians chapter 15, the word again appeared in its already understood place.

That said, the word has proven to be somewhat problematic for scholars who refuse to recognize the calling of the prophet Joseph. For one, it is not a word that exists in our known English lexicon; furthermore, the word is set inline with two other known terms that, though their meanings are clear, go against any perceivable pattern that Joseph Smith seemed to establish.

For example, the three degrees of Heaven refer to the eventual glorified destination of us, God’s children: the celestial inheriting as their kingdom, in fact, the earth on which we now live (though glorified—do you remember that?). Based purely on lexical meanings, it would seem more appropriate for the earth to be associated with the middle kingdom, the terrestrial kingdom (after all, it does mean “earthly”) and not the celestial. Nevertheless, the revelations state that righteous will inherit the earth as the kingdom of the celestial.

To add to this seeming inconsistency on the part of Joseph Smith’s revealed eschatological system, the connection between 1 Corinthians 15 verses 40 and 41, is further derided by critical scholars in that Paul connects the light of the sun as being typical of this celestial degree of glory and not the earth, and the terrestrial seems to lose all relatedness when the moon is set forth as its symbol.

But symbol of what? It would be well for the student of the scriptures to remember that Paul is here answering specific questions. We will return to this in a moment.

The claim put forth by Joseph Smith is, in essence, that Paul’s original letter contained a third term in the Greek that we are not now familiar with: telestial. That word can be demonstrably shown to be derived from τέλος telos, which means “an end” or “consummation” (see Strong’s Greek Concordance, 5056). It is related to the English word “telescope,” whose function is not fully realized until the tool is extended to its ‘end.’ The Latin/Old French suffix “-al” is imposed on the Greek τέλος telos to produce an unfamiliar but agreeable new adjective to describe the lowest form of resurrected bodies.

But how do we reconcile celestial (“heavenly”), terrestrial (“earthly”), and telestial (“final”) as descriptors of these bodies? Again, we turn to the question Paul is endeavoring to answer all along (question [1], above): ‘how are the dead raised up?’

Through a revelation from the prophet Joseph Smith, we find the key:

“[Regarding those who obtain celestial bodies:] these shall dwell in the presence of God and his Christ forever and ever.
These are they whom he shall bring with him, when he shall come in the clouds of heaven to reign on the earth over his people.
“These are they who shall have part in the first resurrection….”
“These are they whose bodies are celestial, whose glory is that of the sun, even the glory of God, the highest of all, whose glory the sun of the firmament is written of as being typical” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:62-64,70, emphasis added).

Beside the celestial, who will come from heaven, all other resurrections will take place upon the earth, the terrestrial coming forth in the first resurrection (see John 5:29; also Doctrine and Covenants 76:17), the telestial at the second, which will be at the end of the earth’s temporal history:

 

“[Regarding this who obtain telestial bodies:] these are they who shall not be redeemed from the devil until the last resurrection, until the Lord, even Christ the Lamb, shall have finished his work” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:85, emphasis added).

So let’s recap: the first resurrection will take place at Christ’s coming, the celestial coming in from the clouds “of heaven” (ἐπουράνια epourania) and the terrestrial coming forth out of their graves on the earth (ἐπίγεια epigeia); then the telestial will come forth after the millennial reign of Christ, at the world’s end or consummation (τέλος telos). That is ‘how’ the ‘dead are raised up,’ and their respective glories (as discussed above) are ‘with what body’ they do ‘come.’

Thus, the adjectives Paul ascribes to the third, second, and first heavens represent the manner of resurrection its inhabitants will go through; whereas the symbols of the sun, moon, and stars represent the kinds of bodies, in terms of glory or power, that its inhabitants will possess.

So back to your original question:

“If [sickness and infirmity, old age and all manner of undeserved harshness] is what it means to be ‘created in his image,’then why have him as my father?”

The point of this whole explanation is to show you that what you are now is not God’s final creation—in other words, you are not yet in ‘his image,’ but you may become such when you, as a seed, die and then resurrect. How can it be said that you are ‘created in his image’? Because this is the way that he was made, to quote the prophet Lorenzo Snow, as also Joseph Smith:

“As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may become.”
“Where was there ever a son without a father? And where was there ever a father without first being a son? Whenever did a tree or anything spring into existence without a progenitor?”

Paul makes this point also, pointing to the great head of our human family on earth, Adam, and how it was that he too underwent this process, and that we too will undergo it:

“And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.
“Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual….
“And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly” (1 Cor. 15:45-46,49).

Thomas, there is a path established by God whereby you too can obtain a resurrected body of celestial glory—to ‘bear the image of the heavenly’—which body will come from the heavens with the Son when he comes to reign in glory. This path has been made clear by the words of living prophets, and it all begins by following the example of the Savior by going down into the waters of baptism to be born of water by an authorized minister—someone who holds the true priesthood delegated from Jesus Christ himself.

For each of us, the commencement of this path begins with faith, and the fruits of faith is repentance, and the fruits of repentance are in the saving ordinances, beginning with baptism. Do everything in your power, Thomas, to obtain that celestial body through the sacred ordinances that have been brought from heaven for that purpose, for it is what your Father has done, and it is what He asks you to do.

—Joseph

 

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?

—Thomas


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,

—Joseph

Revelation, Truth, and Error: Laws of Detection

Dear Joseph,

I still haven’t got around to changing my world view, as you suggested. But I feel concerned that even if I begin to see God’s hand in my past, I may not recognize it in my future. Some people would suggest that the LDS church is actually the devil’s church. But couldn’t that be said of any religion? I mean, I’m not sure that the devil’s that interested in all of this. I haven’t felt that God’s even that interested in all of this, so why would the devil care?

—Thomas


Dear Thomas,

The first thing to be aware of is that God’s Kingdom is one of perfect order; there are laws that govern everything:

“Behold, mine house is a house of order, saith the Lord God, and not a house of confusion.
“Will I accept of an offering, saith the Lord, that is not made in my name?
“Or will I receive at your hands that which I have not appointed?
“And will I appoint unto you, saith the Lord, except it be by law, even as I and my Father ordained unto you, before the world was?
“I am the Lord thy God; and I give unto you this commandment—that no man shall come unto the Father but by me or by my word, which is my law, saith the Lord” (Doctrine and Covenants 132:8-12, emphasis added).

This concept, that everything the Lord does with regard to us is by law, is crucial to understanding how revelation works because it too is bound by certain laws. I intend to lay before you some of these rules and principles so that you may be aided in perceiving truth from error, which leads me to the second thing you ought to be aware of: the devil is in fact very interested in religion. If you want evidence of this, just look at the several factions and sects of religion throughout the world. God is the author of order; Satan is the author of confusion. There is ultimate truth and a true religion, the Kingdom of God in embryo, but the devil would have such knowledge obscured, and he would prefer to destroy it if he could. Nonetheless, the devil rejoices when he goes on undetected in the world, and sometimes in the church—he laughs when his lies go unperceived.

In fact, that’s really at the core of the laws of Heaven: perceiving truth from error. But let’s be clear on what truth is. If we’re going to understand the mind of the Lord on this subject, we ought to use His definition:

“…Truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come;
“And whatsoever is more or less than this is the spirit of that wicked one who was a liar from the beginning” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:24-25).

So there it is, pretty straight forward, with a little reminder that anything that is not true is error, which is the devil’s domain. Truth is the ‘knowledge’ of what was/is/will be—the ways things really are—not the mumbo jumbo we make up to try and explain things.

You might be thinking, “So if the Lord always communicates in truth, all I have to do is make sure that I’m learning true things and it’s of God guaranteed, right?” Right! But it’s not as easy as it sounds. “There are many spirits which are false spirits, which have gone forth in the earth, deceiving the world. […] And also Satan…” (Doctrine and Covenants 50:2-3). The struggle for humanity is that most people are oblivious to the ‘knowledge’ that would help them detect the false spirits from the spirit of God—the error from the truth. You must know the laws that govern such things if you desire to ‘come unto the Father.’

In The Book of Mormon, we find this statement: “And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:5, emphasis added). What the devils seek to do then is confuse error for the truth, and they are really, really good at doing just that. And, unfortunately, probably more than at any other time in earth’s history, mankind is worshipping these errors and believing fiction for truth almost ubiquitously. And, even more unfortunately, the devils don’t stop with passing error as truth, they are also ensuring that mankind stomps out the truth when it does pop up. This is not a new campaign—true prophets have always been stoned by the unbelievers—but it’s like a landslide against all things “good[, which are] just and true” in our modern world (Moroni 10:6).

So how do you distinguish what is true from what is error? Note that I use the word error instead of false. I do this to emphasize that just because something is false doesn’t mean that it’s immediately recognized as such. I feel that the word error carries with it a sense of deception. I doubt that the world at large would love to claim that they’re idolizing falsehoods instead of solid truth, but that’s why the false spirits deceive—“it’s a trap!” The devils are out to blind us from finding our way to the glory of God. For those who have not found the truth, the false spirits’ actions are to keep them from the truth; for those who have found the truth, the false spirits’ actions are “calculated to bring disgrace upon the Church of God…” (Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith [STPJS], 214). Again, we must know the laws that God has instituted to tell his commands from all others.

Law no. 1: The Fruits

The scriptures deliver this message with clarity and great power. Read for yourself:

“Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
“Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
“A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.”

“For behold, a bitter fountain cannot bring forth good water; neither can a good fountain bring forth bitter water….
“Wherefore, take heed… that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.
“…The way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.
“…Every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
“But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him” (Matthew 7:16-18Moroni 7: 11,14-17, emphasis added).

This is the first law to distinguishing truth from error. If you pray to know if The Book of Mormon is true and your mind is filled with arguments from an anti-Mormon pamphlet saying things like, “The Bible should not be added to,” etc., then I dare you to open to almost any page in The Book of Mormon and ask yourself, “Am I being invited to Christ? Am I being taught to do good?” or better yet, “Am I being persuaded to do evil?” Open The Book of Mormon to 3 Nephi chapter 11 and answer those questions. The fruit of The Book of Mormon can silence all invented arguments in an instant if you just take the effort to seek for the fruit. You can have a perfect knowledge of its truthfulness.

This same test can be applied to a prompting or revelation you receive from the Spirit. If the fruit of the prompting is good (invites to believe in Christ and do good), then you know that the spirit was of God. If the fruit is bad (do evil, don’t believe in Christ, don’t serve God, etc.), then you know that the spirit was not of God but was a false spirit, a spirit in the domain of error.

Law no. 2: Peace vs. Comfort

In a dream given to Brigham Young after the prophet Joseph Smith’s martyrdom, Joseph Smith gave Brigham Young this direction:

“Tell the brethren to be humble and faithful and be sure to keep the Spirit of the Lord, that it will lead them aright…. They can tell the Spirit of the Lord from all other spirits—it will whisper peace and joy to their souls; it will take malice, hatred, strife and all evil from their hearts, and their whole desire will be to do good” (quoted in Juvenile Instructor, 19 July 1873, 114, emphasis added).

The presence of truth, that which the Spirit of the Lord communicates, will bring peace to our hearts. The devil may bring a convincing argument to your mind, but he cannot imitate peace. He can, however, lull and pacify, or create the feeling of carnal security—something I’d bet most people would term comfort (see 2 Nephi 28:21).

Someone I know recently joined the church once she discovered the truth inside of it. She described to me how that she would wonder about the Gospel and its tenets, which were opposed to her lifestyle choices up to that point, and feel something tell her that she was fine, that there was nothing wrong with her, but that the Gospel was simply false. She said that such a justification would sweep over her and she would feel comfort in her situation. She could receive this comfort over and over. And, importantly, that’s what she needed to do to retain that comfort because It never lasted. She thought her comfort was the answer to her question of whether or not the church was true. It was not until she yielded to the inviting of the Spirit of God, to believe in Christ’s restored Gospel, that she was introduced to true peace. It was a different feeling altogether, and, importantly, it lasted. Truly, she testified to me that “Jesus… said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of [the devil’s] water shall thirst again: […] But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14-15).

When one of the first converts to the church wondered at whether God had answered his prayers concerning the truthfulness of the restored Gospel, God counseled him, saying:

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things.
“Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?” (Doctrine and Covenants 6:22-23, emphasis added).

Law no. 3: Commandment vs. Prophecy

There’s a story from back when the church was just newly arrived in Utah wherein a church member rode on horseback as quickly as he could from his home to the prophet Brigham Young’s residence to tell him an important message. According to the man, an angel had appeared to him with a commandment for Brigham Young. Before he could tell Brigham Young his message, however, Brigham Young told the man to go back and “tell that angel to go to Hell,” since that’s where the angel had came from.

How could Brigham Young have spoken so boldly without even hearing the message? Simply, he knew the laws, and he knew the supposed angel had broken one of those laws, entering the domain of error. The principle here is that when a commandment comes to a person, even if by an angel of light (which Satan can impersonate; see 2 Corinthians 11:14), it must fall within that person’s jurisdiction. Simply put:

“If worthy, we are entitled to receive revelations for ourselves, parents for their children, and members of the Church in their callings. But the right of revelation for others does not extend beyond our own stewardship” (James E. Faust, “Communion with the Holy Spirit,” Ensign, Mar. 2002, 4).

This means that if you, Thomas, walk into a meeting with the missionaries one day having felt prompted to tell one of them that they need to return home as soon as possible, you can know by this law that it is not of God. This message—this command—would have come through the proper channels to reach that missionary. Per the quote above, it would have to have come to his Mission President. Hence the only person in God’s orderly kingdom who can give commandment for the whole world is the person at its head, the living prophet. Read the scriptures and you will see that this pattern is consistent and ancient.

But God can and does give revelatory experiences—prophecies, visions, etc.—to all those who are worthy and prepared. As Joseph Smith taught:

“How do men obtain a knowledge of the glory of God, his perfections and attributes?… By devoting themselves to his service, through prayer and supplication incessantly strengthening their faith in him, until, like Enoch, the brother of Jared, and Moses, they obtain a manifestation of God to themselves” (Lectures on Faith, 2).

An example of the compatibility of concurrent prophecy and commandment of the Lord can be found in the New Testament. Paul was visiting with the saints in Cæsarea before leaving on assignment to Jerusalem. The account then states:

“And as [Paul] tarried there many days, there came down from Judæa a certain prophet, named Agabus.
“And when he was come… he took Paul’s girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.
“…And they of that place… besought [Paul] not to go up to Jerusalem.
“Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.
“… [But Paul] would not be persuaded… saying, The will of the Lord be done.
“And after those days [Paul]… went up to Jerusalem.
“[There,] the chief captain came near, and took [Paul], and commanded him to be bound with two chains…” (Acts 21:10-15,22).

Agabus, filled with the Holy Ghost, prophesied a bad ending to Paul’s journey, which came true. Yet Paul knew that the Lord had commanded him to go and face it, and so he went. As an Apostle, Paul was “up the chain of command,” as it were, from Agabus, so that Agabus would not receive a revelation telling Paul what to do. But, unlike Brigham Young, Paul did not tell Agabus to send the spirit that prompted the prophecy to go to Hell. The reason is that Agabus did not receive a command for Paul that would have contradicted Paul’s earlier revelation to go to Jerusalem, but simply prophesied future events. This is a very important distinction, for it can make the difference in one’s understanding and perception of truth and error.

When the Holy Ghost—the spirit of truth itself—inspires prophecy, it follows that the prophecy would be the truth. Had Paul not been bound hand and foot in Jerusalem to fulfill Agabus’ prophecy, it could be well assumed that Agabus was not filled with the Spirit of the Lord, but with some deceiving, false spirit. But how would it be known to Paul that Agabus was full of either the right spirit or a wrong one? Joseph Smith answered the question when writing about a sect of Christianity he called “the Irvingites” who made false prophecies while under the influence of “the spirit,” so called:

“Some will say, ‘try the spirits’ by the word (1 John 4:1). ‘Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God.’ (1 John 4:2-3) One of the Irvingites once quoted this passage whilst under the influence of a spirit, and then said, “I confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.” And yet these prophecies failed, their Messiah did not come; and the great things spoken of by them have fallen to the ground. What is the matter here? Did not the Apostle [John] speak the truth? Certainly he did—but he spoke [in context] to a people who were under the penalty of death, the moment they embraced Christianity;… [so] this was consequently given as a criterion to the church or churches to which John wrote. But the devil on a certain occasion cried out, “I know thee, who thou art, the Holy One of God”! (Mark 1:24). Here was a frank acknowledgment under other circumstances that Jesus had ‘come in the flesh.’ On another occasion the devil said, “Paul we know, and Jesus we know”—of course, ‘come in the flesh’ (Acts 19:15) No man nor sect of men without the regular constituted authorities, the Priesthood and discerning of spirits, can tell true from false spirits. This power they possessed in the Apostles’ day, but it has departed from the world for ages” (STPJS, 213).

Is it no wonder that I started off this letter by informing you that most all of the world is ‘oblivious to the knowledge’ that could bring them out of darkness and into light? This precious knowledge is bound by the laws of God, which laws are governed by the priesthood as restored by Joseph Smith (another topic for another time!). Suffice it to say that the knowledge I’m now presenting you would not be around without the restoration of the Gospel through Joseph Smith the prophet.

Law no. 4: Test by the Word

When the Spirit of the Lord speaks to us, it is a subtle sensation. As President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has taught:

“The Spirit does not get our attention by shouting or shaking us with a heavy hand. Rather it whispers. It caresses so gently that if we are preoccupied we may not feel it at all….
“Occasionally it will press just firmly enough for us to pay heed. But most of the time, if we do not heed the gentle feeling, the Spirit will withdraw and wait until we come seeking and listening and say in our manner and expression, like Samuel of ancient times, ‘Speak [Lord], for thy servant heareth.’” (“The Candle of the Lord,” Ensign, Jan. 1983, 53).

As an investigator to the church, Thomas, you may occasionally receive light and truth to your understanding from the Holy Ghost. But when you are baptized and given the gift of the Holy Ghost, you have the right to constant revelation as long as you stand worthy, as opposed to intermittent insights. Your ability to understand the scriptures, and draw out from them the mysteries of God, will be instantly enhanced.

Hopefully by studying some of the material I have given you thus far in this letter, you will be able to begin recognizing the difference between your own thoughts and the promptings of the Holy Spirit and the promptings of a false spirit. When you are governed by correct principles, you can set sail with confidence in the seas of revelation; lose sight of those principles, however, and the devil will seek to capsize you in an instant. Always “have [your revelations] tested by the word of God; [otherwise] …proving that [you love] darkness rather than light, because [your] deeds are evil” (STPJS, 215). Truth by its nature cannot be contradicted, so always “compare your [revelations] with the scriptures and the teachings of the living prophets” (Preach My Gospel, 98). If what you receive works against established doctrines and procedures, “[you] should be very wary about accepting it, and [you] should not share it with others” (Gerald N. Lund, “Is It Revelation?” New Era, July 2004).

Nonetheless, the seas of revelation are an exciting place to be, and by and by, as your faith and experience increase, you may have the heavens opened up to you just as the ancient prophets we read about in the Bible.

Law no. 5: Signs and Tokens

No surprise then that with the restoration of God’s priesthood and laws, a revelation has come through the prophet Joseph Smith detailing how to distinguish between good and bad angels. Now, you may be thinking, “Well, good angels wear white and bad angels wear red, right?” If the devils were not trying to deceive us, then yes, it could be that easy. But Satan’s work has always been the work of counterfeit; if he can’t get us to choose evil outright he gets us to choose evil dressed up as good—error disguised as truth.

(One law I do not know, though I assume it is related to belief and faith and the message being delivered, is upon what grounds the economy of Heaven determines to send an angelic minister versus something lighter like the still small voice. It seems self-evident to me, though, that an angel won’t be sent to tell someone that praying is good—there’s enough conscience [Light of Christ] within even an unbaptized person to receive that type of revelation on their own. Likewise, the scriptures are replete with instances of angelic appearances and visions and dreams that are given for strictly portentous communications.)

Now, back to the concept of error disguising itself as truth. As mentioned earlier, the devil can appear as an angel of light, attempting to deceive those who know not the laws. Joseph Smith instructs:

“There are two kinds of beings in heaven, namely: Angels, who are resurrected personages, having bodies of flesh and bones—
“For instance, Jesus said: Handle me and see, for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.
“Secondly: the spirits of just men made perfect, they who are not resurrected, but inherit the same glory.
“When a messenger comes saying he has a message from God, offer him your hand and request him to shake hands with you.
“If he be an angel he will do so, and you will feel his hand.
“If he be the spirit of a just man made perfect he will come in his glory; for that is the only way he can appear—
“Ask him to shake hands with you, but he will not move, because it is contrary to the order of heaven for a just man to deceive; but he will still deliver his message.
“If it be the devil as an angel of light, when you ask him to shake hands he will offer you his hand, and you will not feel anything; you may therefore detect him.
“These are three grand keys whereby you may know whether any administration is from God” (Doctrine and Covenants 129:1-9).

Did you catch the giveaway between good spirits and bad ones? It comes back to the principle of truth. Only the devil or a false spirit will enter the domain of error. In the three examples above of a being appearing in light bearing a message from God, the only one who attempts to do something he cannot do (physically shake hands) is the evil spirit. A spirit attempting to respond to the request that hands be clasped is a deception because it cannot be done. A good spirit would not enter the domain of error, whereas an evil spirit would, outstretching his arm as if he were capable of actually shaking your hand.

Whether it be the spirit of prophecy, a prompting to action by the Holy Ghost, or a message from an angel, the Lord has instituted laws whereby counterfeits may be detected and eliminated. If you have the knowledge, you may even detect a false angel by the color of his hair, or the presence of wings (Angels do not have wings; See STPJS, 162 & 214).

In God’s kingdom of perfect order, there is no room for blame or aspersion. Several years ago I saw an article in a Utah newspaper describing a deranged mother’s slaying of her husband and children. When questioned as to her motives, she responded that she had been told by the spirit of God to do so as a test of her willingness to obey. She believed that at some point her obedience would be proven and her family would be miraculously returned to her. But she was imprisoned instead for the senseless murdering of her family.

Was she justified in her atrocities because she was being obedient, even if the end result seemed non-miraculous? I will state with complete firmness that no man or woman who submits any degree of obedience to a false spirit will find any degree of justification in God’s eyes.

“But what about Abraham?” You might ask. “He followed a command to take his son up and sacrifice him on an alter. Wasn’t that just like this woman who killed her family? Was this her Abrahamic trial?” No it wasn’t. In one case, we find a false spirit at the head; in the other, the spirit of God. That is why it is so important to be able to detect the Lord’s true servants.

If a true messenger of God delivered the message, and I confirmed the truth that the message was of God, I would then have the certain knowledge that it was of God, and not knowing the end from the beginning, I would have faith “accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead” just as Abraham had to fulfill the command (Hebrews 11:19).

Abraham: Father of the Faithful

In summary, Thomas, I want you to know that God has established laws whereby every ministration from Him may be known with certainty, ‘as daylight is from the dark night.’ Though these are not all the laws that exist, the principle remains here exemplified that you may gain a knowledge of the truth of all things. You may come to know that The Book of Mormon is true. You may gain a knowledge that what the missionaries just shared with you is true. You may gain a knowledge that Heavenly Father exists as the missionaries have taught He does, and as the scriptures teach He does. You may come to know, as you know that I live having seen me face to face, that the Savior, Jesus Christ, lives. And you may not be deceived.

A knowledge of such things does not negate the need for faith. When you know that Christ lives, then you must give your life to Him. Then if you are asked to deny that Jesus is the Christ or die, what will your faith bring you to do? If you know that The Book of Mormon is true and you are asked to be baptized and to lead your family to the same, what will your faith bring you to do? Jonah tried to sail away from his knowledge. David thought Bathsheba was worth more than his knowledge. But Abraham became known as the father of the faithful because he was true to his knowledge.

Detect the truth, Thomas. Do everything in your power to have a knowledge of the truth. Then ask yourself, “What will I do now?” That will be the measure of your faith.

—Joseph

P.S. 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.

The Holly and The Ivy

Breaking from the usual letter-response format of my blog, I’m posting a poem I’ve written for this Christmas season that I would like to share with my readers. A little background will go a long way to appreciating the content of this poem:

In olden times, a Christmas tradition was a song competition between the men and women of a given town. The contest was to see who could sing the highest praise of their respective symbol: the men were to sing of the holly; and the women, the ivy. At the end of the singing, the two groups would reconcile beneath a row of mistletoe. Many of these songs have been forgotten to time, but some, particularly those sung by the males, have survived. The carol, The Holly and the Ivy, is a product of such remembered songs. I’ve combined those ancient themes, along with the legend of mistletoe being the Herbe de la Croix, whose wood was said to be that used to make the cross of Jesus’ crucifixion, to form an original poem set in the meter of said carol and using Middle English (as best I could).

The Holly and The Ivy
A Retelling of a Classic Carol

  1. As the snow falls at that dark and dreary time of year,
    Friends and fam’ly gather to grow a feeling, O so dear;
    To remember what was born, and ended with a pall,
    When a love and a life was giv’n, at once to save us all.
  2. But seldom is remembered, the story of a pair;
    Whose budding romance betoken’d our savior, O so fair.
    When the woods are blast by ice, and in color are grey,
    These lovers then appear evergreen, in the light of day.
  3. The holly and the ivy, when they were both full grown,
    Upon the wintry day did meet, when they were both alone.
    The holly loved the ivy, and she did love him too;
    But she kept her feelings hidden, to see if he’d be true.
  4. “Now Christmas is tomorrow,” said the doting holly,
    “Thou my wife I plan to make; ‘twill fill my life with jolly.”
    “Not so,” denied the ivy, “when all is grey and iced.
    “These days I am striving outwards, to be like Jesus Christ.
  5. “I started in October, to blossom and to bud,
    “So animals I could give food, when else is draped in mud.”
    The holly stood uprightly, and said, with humble heart,
    “I too am like the savior—I’m trying to do my part.
  6. “In May I bore a blossom as white as any milk;
    “And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ, and swaddled him in silk.
    “Nay, Ivy, nay, it shall not be on Christmas we shall wed,
    “For Christmas day is on us now; by new year I’ll be dead.
  7. “Now hear the words I say,” continued the old holly,
    “Thou my wife I plan to make; ‘twill fill my life with jolly.”
    “Not so,” denied the ivy, “when all is grey and iced.
    “There’s yet more ways in which I try to be like Jesus Christ.
  8. “Though other shrubs can’t abide, ’till spring my fruit I keep,
    “My berries black feed the fowels, who neither sow nor reap.”
    The holly hunched uprightly, and said, with trembling heart,
    “I too am like the savior—I’m trying to do my part.
  9. “In fall I bore a berry as red as any blood,
    “And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to do poor sinners good.
    “Nay, Ivy, nay, it shall not be on Christmas we shall wed,
    “For Christmas day is past us now; by new year I’ll be dead.
  10. “Now hear the words I say,” pleaded the aged holly,
    “Thou my wife I plan to make; ‘twill fill my life with jolly.”
    “Not so,” denied the ivy, “when all is grey and iced.
    “There’s one more way in which I try to be like Jesus Christ.
  11. “I only grow my flowers high atop my briery face,
    “Kept neither under bushel nor in any secret place.”
    The holly stooped uprightly, and said, with fainting heart,
    “I too am like the savior—I’m trying to do my part.
  12. “Beneath I bear a bark as bitter as any gall,
    “And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ for to redeem us all.
    “Nay, Ivy, nay, it shall not be on Christmas we shall wed,
    “For Christmas day is long past us; and now I shall be dead.”
  13. “Now Christmas day is long past us?” questioned the ivy.
    “But thou my spouse I planned to make; to fill my life with thee!”
    “Not so,” cried the lone ivy, “now thou art grey and iced.
    “There’s one last way I wish that I could be like Jesus Christ.”
  14. “To restore that which is lost?” came a voice from above,
    “To conquer death, to green the wood, to mend forever love?”
    “Who art thou?” asked the ivy. “Doth thou the savior know?”
    Then softly came the stranger’s voice, “I am the mistletoe.
  15. “I know sweet Jesus Christ,” said the old plant draped in frost.
    “I was once a great tree from whom they fashion’d out His cross.
    “For that painful sacrifice, the Lord gave a power;
    “Kiss thy man beneath my care and have him from this hour.”
  16. Then the faithful ivy, crying teardrops like a mist,
    Picked up her cold, dear loved one, and gave unto him a kiss.
    “Nay, Ivy, nay,” came the voice of he who once was dead,
    “The new year is upon us now; this day we shall be wed.”
  17. Now for always remember, the story of this pair;
    Whose flowered romance betoken’d our savior, O so fair.
    When thy woods are blast by ice, and in color are grey,
    Through Him thy love shall be evergreen, in the light of day.

—Joseph