Replies to Thomas

Tag: child of god

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

 

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Trailing Clouds of Glory Do We Come

Dear Joseph,

The missionaries have explained that in the preexistence we chose to come here so that we could learn and choose to become more like God. I think I understand that point. So what happens now that I’m here and I’m perfectly content NOT to become like God?

Is it possible that even in the preexistence my intention was to come here but not take it any further than that? It doesn’t seem likely, but I don’t know the finer points there. By “intention” I mean to come here and gain a body, to be a generally pleasant sort of fellow, but then leave it at that.

Rereading this, I worry I might be coming across as rather flippant and I want to make sure you know that I’m being very sincere here. I’m trying to correlate this new information about the meaning of life with my general feelings about it; I’ve never felt that God’s ever been up there for me, and I don’t feel like I’m down here for Him. Does that make sense?

—Thomas


Dear Thomas,

I do love and appreciate your sincerity, and your words do come across so, and you do make sense.

You know, there’s a reason none of us are permitted to remember our pre-earth life, for we then wouldn’t require faith to follow God—and this life is the testing ground of our faith. But there are a couple things we do know about the preexistence:

For one, we know that we did not come to earth unprepared; an eternity or eons of preparation preceded this life. It may not seem like it, but we are far limited in our capacities and faculties as intelligent beings than we once were. This isn’t to limit us, it is to narrow the test parameters. Such limitations as we experience in mortality could be seen as a roadblock to becoming like our Father in Heaven if this life was about mastering the powers of God so we can be like Him, but that’s not what this life is about; it’s about mastering our faith and obedience to God so that He can trust us with all that is needed to become like Him. Nevertheless, we know that we all come here having undergone great preparation to do so—including you.

For another, we know that our choices in the preexistence have an influence on our circumstances here. The fact that you are on earth shows that you made the decision to support Christ as savior and king in the council in Heaven (as I said in my last letter to you). The fact that missionaries have come to share the higher truths of your eternal potential with you may be a sign that you once did desire to become more than just a “generally pleasant sort of fellow” and become like God. I don’t know that for sure, but you have accepted to be taught by His servants at a pivotal time in your life. If there is a sense within you that is responding to the missionaries’ presence and words, it is a principle of intelligence that you developed before this life—the ability to recognize truth.

Other talents and certain predispositions are features of your eternal identity—they are part of who you were even before this life. The type of characteristics that we would define as having their beginning before this life can typically be identified by their nature and tendency towards good and truth, such as the ability to recognize truth, the desire to keep one’s body pure, and the love of music. Other predispositions that tend towards the negative are what we would define as an iniquity—an inherited dysfunction whose root is the sins of previous generations.

(We are all composite beings of spirit and flesh, or in other words, we are spiritual beings having a physical experience [which is quite a bit different than saying we are physical beings having a spiritual experience]. The part that comes from our Father in Heaven is perfect in its creation and, well, heavenly; the part that comes from our earthly parentage is imperfect [due to the fall] and predisposed towards sinfulness as a result of being conceived by other imperfect bodies that are also predisposed towards sinfulness.)

“The intelligences… were organized before the world was” (Abraham 3:22).

Scripturally, Paul taught about the fact that our choices before this life have an influence on our circumstance here in his letter to the Romans. Referencing the birth of Esau and Isaac (who were born as fraternal twins), Paul wrote:

“…When Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac;
“…[And] the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand…
“It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger….
“What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid” (Romans 9:10-12,14).

Here Paul is assuming that the reader is aware that, though not the natural inheritor of the birthright, Isaac would go on to receive the birthright and have authority to rule over his elder brother, Esau. If God told this to their mother Rebecca before the birth, was God just being random and playing favorites? ‘God forbid’! If we rule that out as a possibility, seeing that God is perfectly just, then to what can we owe this foreknowledge of God? The answer was poetically penned by William Wordsworth:

“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
“The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
“Hath had elsewhere its setting
“And cometh from afar;
“Not in entire forgetfulness,
“And not in utter nakedness,
“But trailing clouds of glory do we come
“From God, who is our home….”

William Wordsworth
“Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”

Isaac made certain choices before his birth, which is ‘but a sleep and a forgetting,’ that God did not forget, choices that put him in a position to rule over his brother who apparently did not make the same choices. We really won’t know, however, what those choices were, or my or your full motivation for choosing what we did, until the test of this life is over and the veil is lifted from our minds and our former recollection and friends come to our remembrance. Nonetheless, I agree with Wordsworth: I feel as though sometimes I am not left to ‘entire forgetfulness’ and the veil is gently parted by a cool breeze from our eternal home and to my mind is given the slightest shimmering of a feeling of remembrance. By faith and authority, that veil can be fully parted for each of us to gaze through (a topic for another time, perhaps).

“Is it possible that even in the preexistence my intention was to come here but not take it any further than that?”

It is possible to not want to be like God, for, after all, we have free agency and we will go to that place eternally where we will be most comfortable. For many mainstream Christians, they want to be good people so they can go to Heaven and sing praises to God above with the angels. If you look at the definition of the Terrestrial Kingdom in the plan of salvation (as I once wrote to you in detail), these kinds of good people will get just that: God will be above them and they will be as the angels in eternity, serving God and living in peace and a degree of eternal happiness!

BUT what God wants for all of His children is to reach higher than that: to be where He is.

The motivation to do what is required to reach our highest heavenly home is different for each person, partly due to their choices and desires they brought with them from the preexistence. For those who have seen a glimpse of their mansion prepared above, any sacrifice would be worth it just to spend some time there again. For some, their mansion contains their family. I know that was great motivation for my wife when she was faced with the invitation to be baptized: she wanted to be with her family forever—husband, kids, etc., and in the plan of salvation, we know that eternal families can only exist in the Celestial Kingdom. She knew what she had to do—even with the prospect of great personal sacrifice—to get to that degree of glory. She knew that in the two lower kingdoms people will live as individuals—unmarried and without the defining relationships of parents and children—”it shall leave them neither root nor branch” (Malachi 4:1). For Abby, this was part of the mansion she knew she must have, and so, even without the motivation of her own future glory, she desired to exalt her family, and we define exaltation as being saved in the highest degree of Heaven.

Who knows what your preexistent motivation was, but surely it was inspired of an eternal perspective. At the very least, you chose Christ as redeemer then, and now that His Gospel is once again on the earth in its fulness, the question is will you choose Him again? If so, then “repent, and be baptized,” as Peter so invited, “…in the name of Jesus Christ,” by one having authority, even as Peter had authority (Acts 2:38).

—Joseph

Free Agency: Raise the Hand and Bow the Knee

Dear Joseph,

Thank you for that in-depth breakdown of Hebrew and Genesis 1:1. That’s the kind of stuff literally no one knows or would ever feel comfortable talking about. But you laid it out like you were teaching me how to use a fork or something simple like that. I like it, and it’s quite profound.

You’ll be surprised to learn that I’ve enjoyed having some Mormon missionaries coming to visit the last three weeks. I like talking about theology and it’s not easy to find people around here who are both interested and knowledgeable on the subject. They’ve ended each get-together with a question. The first one was like “if you come to know that the Book of Mormon is true, and if you gain a testimony of that, and if you decide that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the true path to God, then would you want to be baptized?” Something like that. And I was like, “well, there’s a lot of ‘ifs’ in there, some really big ones, but I suppose the only possible way to answer that rather loaded question is with a yes. So… yes.” It was a true answer, but I’m not sure how honest it was. I don’t feel like I was lying, I just think there were a lot of variables that went unaddressed.

Today, the question was if all of that happens by August, would I be willing to be baptized on that date. I told them I’ve got a lot of obligations on my time, promises and commitments I’ve already made over the years to a lot of things; as in, I’ve got kids to raise, a job to do, things to write, so forth and so on. I can’t ignore everything else I’ve committed to do in order to hunker down and study The Book of Mormon, and receive whatever expectations I do or don’t have.

I do want to give it an honest effort. I said I know August is months and months away, but I just don’t feel like I can promise I’d be ready by then if I ever am ready. But again—all those ifs! So IF I have received a divine message from God that the Book of Mormon is true BY August, then again, the only way to answer that is with a ‘yes’ whether I feel that way NOW or not because IF all those things come to pass I assume I WILL feel that way THEN.

I like these chats, but I don’t want to waste these boys’ time. If I spend months on this, do all the things they’re asking me to do to get that testimony and then it doesn’t take, I’ll feel bad. They said I had to read it with a “real intent.” I don’t know if I can muster that intent. Not because I am completely closed to the idea of The Book of Mormon being l true, but because I am of two minds about God to begin with: part of me no longer believes he exists at all and is quite comfortable with the surprising peace of mind that realization brings; the other part of me believes God may exist but does not understand why he is a being worth worshipping and is actually rather upset at the prospect. No, upset isn’t the right word: angry.

Here’s the bit that has these two wonderful people and I at an impasse:

God has given us free agency—the ability to make whatever decisions I want. And along with that comes a world full of sin and evil and despair, but it also means the opportunity to ascend to something better—a better form of being, a better place to be. But what, I ask, is so great about free agency? I don’t feel like it’s worth all the horrible things it allows people to choose to do. “But,” they say, “if there’s no free agency then there’s no chance of becoming better.” Then I pointed out that if there’s no free agency then there’s no evil and therefore nothing to be better THAN. There’s no point to any of it.

They didn’t really have any reply to that, so I re-broke the ice by assuring them that I was aware that they must have thought I wasn’t making any sense at all. They agreed but seemed bemused by the whole thing, like we all realized there was something each of us was trying to say here that neither side was able to adequately express.

I understand what you’ve said about the fall and such, but my concern is that the world needn’t have fallen in the first place. Why did things have to get much worse before we could have the choice on whether or not to make ourselves better than that which is worse? We’re not really ascending then, we’re just getting back to where we were in the first place. That’s not really improvement, and so much hurt has had to happen for us to get back to where we were before we fell. Some won’t make it back either. Makes me think of the old adages, “leave well enough alone” and “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.”

The world wasn’t broken until God gave us our free agency.

What are your thoughts?

—Thomas


Dear Thomas,

Your heartfelt honesty is refreshing for the missionaries, I’m sure. I mean, they asked you to have real intent and you’re honest enough to say that you’re not sure you can muster it, therefore you should not be surprised if a divine response is just out of reach for the next few months. I don’t say that to sound like a detractor or anything, but I’m simply restating what you said yourself. Thus you can’t blame the missionaries, the message, or God if the heavens remain closed to you. In other words, you know what you must do if you really want an answer.

“…’If there’s no free agency then there’s no chance of becoming better.’ …[But] if there’s no free agency then there’s no evil and therefore nothing to be better THAN.”

Your question about free agency is an interesting one, not because it’s impossible to answer—it’s not as paradoxical as it may seem—but because the answer may fundamentally imply truths that I think you may find hard to accept.

Now, before we delve into the logic that I want to employ here, an important point to keep in mind through all of this is that—with reference to the Gospel—when logical conversion precedes and/or takes the place of spiritual conversion the result is, usually, a fad-like commitment to the principles you will covenant to keep at baptism and onwards. What I mean by that is that—unless you have a spiritual witness of the truthfulness of the Gospel—the winds of doubt and the latest “scientific” finding could easily take your conviction (or conversion) away from you, which, you see, constitutes no real conversion in the first place. Put scripturally, you must plant the word deep in your soul if you don’t want it to be taken away (see the parable of the sower in Mark chapter 4).

My point is, despite any perceived hang-ups in logic, your spiritual witness is far more important in the short- and the long-run of things. Logic has its place—and let’s be clear that when I refer to logic I’m referring to logic arguments, not sanity itself—but this same logic would have kept Isaac tucked safely in bed the morning Abraham was commanded to offer a sacrifice in the similitude of the Son. Logic, if a precedent to faith, would have kept Moses away from Egypt for good, let alone on the dry floor of the Red Sea. Yet these and many other figures of faith were convicted in spirit long before the logic of the Lord was ever revealed to them. If the foolishness of God is wiser than anything of men (1 Cor. 1:25), then surely the perfect logic of eternity will always take faith on our part to accept (1 Cor. 2:14).

With that said, here’s my two logical cents on free agency:

“The world wasn’t broken until God gave us our free agency.”

First, free agency did not begin at birth. In fact, free agency is a principle that enables existence itself (see Doctrine and Covenants 93:30). With a little bit of applied thought, this truth can be made self evident fairly easily. Just think about it. Are you thinking about it? Well then your exercising the most basic principle of existence right this moment simply by thinking, which thinking is defined by your choice of what to think about. If we did not have agency before this life, then a third of our spirit siblings before this life could not have chosen to uphold Lucifer’s plan and thus miss out on progression (Doctrine and Covenants 93:29).

When you realize that when God speaks of giving man his agency He is really speaking of allowing man to retain his agency, and that agency exists as a principle independent of God’s operations (for He too would have no existence without it), it becomes easier to accept that man’s wickedness is not God’s doing—and certainly not His will—but the devil raging in the hearts of man (like wild beasts, remember?). A man left to his own devices without principle of refinement or civilization—qualities of God’s society—will naturally become an enemy to God (see Mosiah 3:19 and 1 Corinthians 2:14).

Surely the missionaries introduced you to Lucifer’s counterfeit plan, right? Recall that in the council in Heaven before the world was, two plans were championed before us, God’s spirit children. One plan was authored by “the Head of the gods” and the premortal Jesus Christ upheld it and volunteered to fill the needed role of a Savior to make it work, and the glory would be to the Father; the other plan was championed by Lucifer who proposed that no Savior would be needed because—without free agency—there would be no chance for wickedness to occur (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?) and thus no need for an atoning sacrifice needed to save, and the glory would be his. As Joseph Smith interestingly worded it:

“The contention in heaven was—Jesus said there would be certain souls that would not be saved; and the devil said he could save them all,  and laid his plans before the grand council,  who gave their vote in favor of Jesus Christ. So the devil rose up in rebellion against God, and was cast down, with all who put up their heads for him.

“…For Jesus will save all except the sons of perdition.”

Joseph Smith

How exactly Lucifer proposed to take away agency is a mystery to me, but the only conclusion I can come to is that it would be less like a utopia and more like an Auschwitz—bound hand and foot to literally be slaves to Lucifer’s will to all gain salvation. Granted, we wouldn’t see him as the devil in that scenario, but as God to whom all are forced to obey whether you like it or not—whether you choose to or not. But, luckily, the God to whom we ‘gave [our] vote in favor’ (we were part of that ‘grand council’) is a being of justice and truth. He too desires all to gain salvation, but will not—nay, cannot—force us to obey those principles of truth that would result in salvation.

This then explains Joseph Smith’s wording above. What is the price for respecting our value as free agents—to respect us as much as He respects Himself? It is, unfortunately, that a few of us would will ourselves away from God and into oblivion.

“…[But from the preexistence to the Celestial Kingdom] we’re just getting back to where we were in the first place. That’s not really improvement….”

Second, you will recall that Heavenly Father’s purpose in sending us here is multifold: one aspect is to be tested; another is to gain crucial experience; yet another is to gain a body. It is this last aspect that I’d like to emphasize. Remember that though we once lived with God, we were not like Him—we were not matured as His offspring. He gave us the choice to continue the path to become like Him (again, agency being key) but to do so would require us to know the good from the evil, so we had to come to this fallen world. Why? Because it is the only place where we could gain a physical body and keep climbing the ladder of eternal progression. (I know it’s sometimes hard to think of this life as a step in progression, but that just brings us back to the testing aspect of this life.) Remember, “Adam fell that man might be” or the striking corollary, “Had Adam not fallen man could not be” (2 Nephi 2:25; also, I wrote much more on this before).

So, no, we’re not ‘just getting back to where we were in the first place’; we’re moving onward and upward, just some not as upward as others, and a select few (the ‘sons of perdition’) are going backward. Let me put this ‘forward’ and ‘backward’ talk in perspective for you:

The plan of salvation teaches that every knee will bow and tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ (Philippians 2:10-11), and we know that the lowest degree of glory that any man (excepting the sons of perdition) will inherit, the Telestial Kingdom, will be a place in the “Kingdom of Heaven,” a place greater than this existence. So, it follows that the ordinance required to enter into God’s secular ‘kingdom’—literally the dominion of the King—is the bowing of the knee and admittance of Christ’s rulership as King (makes one wonder where medieval kingdoms got their pattern, eh?). I want you to remember this for later.

Now, to believe that man in his wickedness will land nearer to God eternally than he now is almost makes sin appear to be nonexistent. But sin is still sin—and a fire of guilt, for lack of a better word, will always burn in the hearts of the Telestial who realize they have fallen short of their potential (this is the true meaning of the fire and brimstone of the Bible)—but to understand that a glory yet awaits even the sinner in this life is to understand what this life really is: a test to ‘[give our] vote in favor of Jesus Christ’ again but under more trying circumstances.

To do this, to choose Christ again, requires sacrifice that will prove to God who the King’s truest servants will be, who He will make His truest rulers in His kingdom.

The ‘sons of perdition’ are those who sin against the Holy Ghost. They are those who have had the heavens opened to their view and they deliberately choose to deny it. They move backwards because they essentially change their ‘vote in favor of Jesus Christ’ that they made before this world. For them, bowing the knee and admitting Christ as King would be contrary to their will (that’s why I once alluded to the fact that accepting the Gospel and then rejecting it is worse than never having accepted it in the first place).

So the story changes from the all-too-familiar mainstream-Christianity one of “Okay mankind, you get one shot to pick the right answer. If you do, you win a big prize, folks!” to one of “You each get to choose just how much you’d like to follow Christ, as you all have already said you will before this life, but the closer you want to be the more that will be asked of you. Will you really be happier there? That’s up to you.”

“Why did things have to get… worse…? …So much hurt has had to happen….”

Remember, God has placed us on this earth—a Telestial sphere itself currently, the bottom of the bucket eternally speaking—to see if we will choose light over darkness. If we remain true to our choices in the preexistence, we will have an “exceeding and eternal weight of glory” added upon us (2 Corinthians 4:17). But mankind, as a whole, loves darkness more than light, and this is the condemnation the world is under (John 3:19). A man may choose to be vile and use his agency for evil—you and I see it everyday almost everywhere—but that man will fall short of the glory of God, which thing is eternal damnation by definition, never having more than the angels (I wrote about this a while back).

So it’s not that sinning will land you in a glorious state, for it is a matter of perspective: you’ve forgotten that relative to all creation, you’re standing in the refuse pit—for a reason! Sinning—or specifically not repenting—will prove the end of your glory, for in all the kingdoms except one there is an end to glory, and though Telestial glory is greater than that which we now experience, it is still a lamentable end.

When we, as part of the ‘grand council,’ put up our hands for Christ, we understood that Christ would be our king after all was said and done. When that future day comes when we bow the knee and formally sustain Him as such, it will not be a surprise to us or a begrudging notion to accept that we are under His rule. We will rejoice in the happy day. The question you are faced with by the missionaries is this: “Will you be baptized by authority to enter Christ’s ecclesiastical Kingdom? You are here, evidencing that you are part of his secular Kingdom, but He desires for you to be part of His inner circle of disciples.” Those who will take that ordinance upon themselves in this life and endure faithful to it (the sacrifice part) are those who will be given dominion with the King to rule and organize the heavens along side Him, to inherit all that the Father has (Doctrine and Covenants 84:38).

That is the definition and the difference between the Celestial Kingdom and all the others.

Christ invites men unto Him, to be joined to Him in ordinances and covenants that they must obey, that they—through Him—may be “joint heirs” of the Father (Romans 8:17). And all of this requires faith, born of a witness, born of real intent—which ofttimes precedes logic.

—Joseph

Deep Admissions of the Creator

Dear Joseph,

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

Yeah, go ahead.

—Thomas


Dear Thomas,

As a reminder, you said:

“… The Hebrew word “Elohim” is closer to the English word ‘god’ than the English word ‘God.'”

And then I added:

“… [‘Elohim’] is not only more similar to the English ‘god’ rather than ‘God,’ but… it is actually plural, therefore meaning ‘gods.'”

Well, who was creating this earth anyway? To answer this question, let’s begin by looking at the full Hebrew version of our beloved Genesis 1:1:

Hebrew: בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָֽרֶץ

Hebrew romanization: Bereisheet bara Elohim et hashamayim ve’et ha’aretz

English: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”

Some rabbis would teach that the first letter in the whole verse, the letter ב “be-“ of “bereisheet” (literally, the preposition “in/at” as found in the adverbial phrase “in/at the beginning”), is fundamental to understanding the Torah—that there is deep significance to the first letter being ב bet (the “t” is pronounced when the letter is read in isolation). This is because ב bet is a pictograph and symbol meaning “house” or “home,” therefore implying that our world that God was creating in Genesis 1:1 is the house of God.

But we have to discard these teachings in order to dig up a great clue as to the identity of “the gods” who created this world. This clue can be found if we accept a surprising fact: the letter ב bet was an unauthorized addition to the original first verse of the Torah. Lest you think that this idea is actually an unauthorized one itself, know that it comes from The Zohar, a group of books that Wikipedia calls “the foundational work in the literature of Jewish mystical thought….” The Zohar teaches that the first phrase that should be read in the account of the creation in Hebrew should not be Bereisheet bara Elohim et hashamayim ve’et ha’aretz, but Reisheet bara Elohim et hashamayim ve’et ha’aretz (noticeably missing the “be-” from the first word).

To actually understand the full implications of this mere change of spelling, let’s take a look at the meaning of the new first word of our Hebrew verse: ראש rosh-/reish-. Though commonly translated as “beginning,” this word has a more literal translation as the word “head,” which would be synonymous with “beginning” if it is assumed that a reference to time is intended by this phrase. But there is no explicit reference to time with which to make such an assumption, and once we remove the preposition ב bet “in/at” from our verse, the previous adverbial phrase of “At the head of [time]” (“In the beginning”) ceases to modify the verb ברא bara “to organize” (not “to create,” remember?) and instead becomes an adjectival phrase modifying the noun אלהים Elohim “the gods”!

Got it?

That was a mouthful, so let me boil it down for you: the Hebrew no longer literally translates to “At the head of [time] the gods organized…,” but instead “The head of the gods organized….” And herein lies the answer (or a step to the final answer) to our original question: “Who was creating this earth anyway?” Answer: someone identified in scripture as the “head of the gods.”

So there you have it, when incorrect changes to the scriptures are removed, and the true meaning of the scriptures is restored, revelation occurs before our eyes. Genesis 1:1 now makes three very deep admissions:

  1. There are multiple beings designated as “gods;”
  2. There is a being among them designated as the “head” of these beings;
  3. There is no indication that the organization of our world took place at the beginning of all time.

It becomes difficult to tread in these deep waters without the aid of direct revelation from Heaven itself. After all, if unauthorized changes to scripture led us away from the truth in the first place, we ought to be very careful to try and not interpolate our own unauthorized changes as well. It becomes expedient, then, that we seek further revelation from Heaven on the subject. Luckily for you, I am a believer of modern revelation and am aware of many such revelations that have come through God’s authorized servants in our day that would help us better understand the three “deep admissions” above.

A lot of what has been revealed on this subject has come to us through Joseph Smith, the first prophet of this dispensation (Do you know what a dispensation is? If not, it’s a topic for another time, I’m sure), but somewhat has been added to his revelations by his successors in the years since his martyrdom. For instance, the prophet Lorenzo Snow wrote a famous couplet of poetry that may expand your thinking on the subject a little (think of a family with a “head” while you read this):

“As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may become.”

Curiosity piqued? I will give you another hint of where I am going with this, also from modern revelation: there is an interesting verse of scripture that we have from God that is found in the book of The Doctrine and Covenants (modern scripture composed of new revelations [new relative to the books of The New Testament, that is]), which reads:

“This is eternal lives—to know the only wise and true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent…” (Doctrine and Covenants 132:24).

In The New Testament, there is a similar verse found in the book of John whose only difference is the word “life” instead of “lives.” This change is crucial. The implication of the version restored by Joseph Smith (quoted above) is that those who go on to the Celestial Kingdom of Heaven (the highest degree of glory in Heaven, remember?) will go on to become like our Heavenly Father—in a very literal sense to become an heir with Christ of the Father’s lifestyle and authority. That means that those who inherit this glory will go on to inherit ‘eternal lives,’ a continuation of what we now recognize as the human family—parents begetting children who themselves become parents who beget children, and so on. The difference is that this pattern will take place on an eternal scale, but only by those who prove themselves capable (we’ve already written at length about the test of this life).

The fact is that the seed of an oak tree does not produce a cow, neither a chicken’s egg, a dog; a man begets a man, and a god begets a god. We are the children of God—man is a god in embryo—we’ve simply forgotten that we are the same race as that being who organized our world. In other words, a god begets a man that becomes a god, but we’ve forgotten that we’re part of this chain. As I wrote in my last letter, Adam and Eve also had forgotten everything, and they are the pattern for this test of mortality that you and I are currently taking. The forgetting is necessary, but just as an absence of evidence cannot be held as evidence for anything, let alone that something does not exist, we must realize and awaken to the fact that, although forgotten, God is in actuality a living being who we are more closely tied to than we know. Said Joseph Smith:

“God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by his power, was to make himself visible—I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man….”

So it is then that our Father in Heaven has children who grow up to become like Him, just as we do—just as we are doing. Would it not be true to call them also “gods” (“deep admissions” point 2)? We are not grown up to that full stature (yet), but if we are not His first creation—if there is no scriptural indication of a beginning of all time (point 3)—then surely others of His children have so matured to become like Him in all ways. He sat at the head of His family (point 1), the “gods,” and counseled with them about the next world He was to organize and, after the premortal Christ was chosen as Savior, got to work.

That is what really happened during the creation.

—Joseph

Wild Beasts That Are Past Feeling

Dear Joseph,

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

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

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

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

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

—Thomas

P.S.

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


Dear Thomas,

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

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

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

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

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

But there’s a another issue at hand:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Joseph