Replies to Thomas

Tag: faith

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.

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God, His Counsel, and His Councils

Dear Joseph,

The story of the blind man and his haunting adversary was very interesting to me. Because of my reluctance to share my story (frankly, most people would say I was dreaming or in a lucid dream state—which I most definitely was not), I haven’t come across others who have had similar experiences in whom I could trust as being as honest as I am about it all. So thank you for helping me feel a little less alone in the world.

But I have a nagging question I want to ask. Whenever pain and suffering or even death are present in our lives, we are told that this life is a mere moment compared to what awaits us after we leave it. It is, in essence, insignificant in the grand scheme. So then why, I would like to know, do the choices and actions we make and perform during this fleeting inconsequential blip in our existence have eternal consequences? This life is either important or it is not. It cannot be both.

When I asked this question to the missionaries, I used the book of Job as an example. God put out a hit on Job’s entire family just to win a bar bet with Satan. Oh, but he got another, bigger and better family after the whole terrifyingly callous affair was over. But Job will be with his family, both old and new, in Heaven. So no harm no foul.

No! Foul, I say. Exceedingly foul. Forcing Job to demonstrate his devotion to God in his life on Earth was so important it was worth murdering an entire family, while those people who were murdered for Job’s sake—their very lives—were not worth preserving?

—Thomas


Dear Thomas,

There is one particular point you must recognize: though a blip, this life is not insignificant. As you said, “either life is important or it’s not. It cannot be both.” And you’re right, it cannot be both; and it is, in fact, the former: important. (I wrote to you somewhat on this point already).

So you ask, “then why… do the choices and actions we make and perform during this fleeting [totally consequential] blip in our existence have eternal consequences?”

You, as an eternal being, have spent eons preparing to come to this earth to go through the experience of mortality. There was no sugar coating on the concept of mortality either; you knew full and well that this life was going to be fraught with all manner of difficulty; you were fully aware that your bread would come by the sweat of your brow; and, as I once wrote to you about supporting Christ before this life, you even understood and accepted that not every soul would be saved that would go through this experience. Despite all of that, you made the choice to come here and go through with it all. Why? Because you knew it would be worth it—worth giving mortality a shot in order to progress. Remember that in eternity there is no existence without opposition, and there is no progression without overcoming that opposition, and where it is overcome there is faith.

Do not doubt it: you and I and Christ and every other person came here to face and overcome opposition—to go from grace to grace in faith.

If you overcome it, if you prize the good of life, you will be crowned with glory hereafter with Christ. The general vicissitudes of life are inherent by the nature of our fallen bodies and so we all will face opposition, an opposition that is common to all mankind (1 Corinthians 10:13), and even Christ—the only perfect one of us—was not exempt from this opposition because He—just like us—was born into the weakness of mortality:

“[…] Inasmuch as… children are conceived in sin, even so when they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts, and they taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good.
“And it is given unto them to know good from evil; wherefore they are agents unto themselves…” (Moses 6:55-56).

As C.S. Lewis so eloquently put it:

“[…] You find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later…. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means—the only complete realist.”

So, this life is full of imperfections and weaknesses that we must struggle with and ultimately overcome if we are to inherit “bodies celestial” (1 Corinthians 15:40). As you stand against the winds of life, and though your body perisheth away, your spirit will increase in glory. And it is precisely that glory—the glory that quickens your spirit—that will determine what body you will receive in the resurrection and what kingdom you will inherit (see Doctrine and Covenants 88:28-29).

Can you begin to see why the choices in this life are of great consequence eternally? When someone tells you that pain and death a suffering are but a brief moment in eternity, it is not meant to de-emphasize the importance of this life; it is meant to give hope that things will not always be this brutal; they are reminding you that this life takes place in the Telestial state—the bottom of the eternal bucket (as I have written before).

You said another interesting thing that I want to address:

“God put out a hit on Job’s entire family just to win a bar bet with Satan…. [So] forcing Job to demonstrate his devotion to God in his life on Earth was so important it was worth murdering an entire family, while those people who were murdered for Job’s sake—their very lives—were not worth preserving?”

For the sake of time, I am simply going to lay down a few principles to help you better understand Job. I do this with the full expectation that you may very well have more questions to ask when I’m through here.

First of all, God was not having a bar bet with Satan (though I recognize that you put a bit of intentional humor in there). What is happening is a very sacred event that often precedes the testing of a called individual.

“Faith is things which are hoped for and not seen.”

“Testing?” you may ask. “Isn’t this life already a test by itself?”

Yes, it is. But the nature of this test is that as you climb the ladder of spiritual glory (recall standing ‘against the winds of life’), the test intensifies—greater and greater sacrifices are required as greater and greater glory is obtained, going from grace to grace (I wrote briefly on these “levels” in my last letter to you; also, see Doctrine and Covenants 93:11-14,19-20). And the things that such a person will be called to pass through could aptly be called a test within the test of life itself.

Hence life itself is hard by the nature of our desire to gain a body to become more like God and what that takes, but life gets harder (for lack of a better term) the closer you want to be to God in his glory. This is why when Jesus was upon the Earth, He was bitterly opposed by Satan and men. It is also why when Joseph Smith restored the Gospel in its fulness, he was bitterly persecuted in like manner. It is how you can identify the truth upon this wicked world—it is despised.

You may notice this yourself as you have been approached with the truth of the Gospel: greater joy than you have before known is offered you but it requires a sacrifice at your hands to obtain it. It may be the sacrifice of the respect of your family members who disapprove of your choice to become a Mormon. It may be the sacrifice of keeping the commandments such as obtaining from your favorite alcohols and not working on Sundays resulting in a pay cut, etc. After joining the church, you will want to be sealed to your family for eternity and the journey to get your family to the point where you can all go to the temple may require additional sacrifice and the overcoming of additional opposition. (Often times, though those things are put on the personal altar of sacrifice, they are returned to us in a better form: new found refreshment from water, a more understanding family, a better paying job, etc.) But again, it all comes down to overcoming opposition. As Joseph Smith taught:

“It is in vain for persons to fancy to themselves that they are heirs with those, or can be heirs with them, who have offered their all in sacrifice… unless they in like manner offer unto him the same sacrifice…” (Lectures on Faith 6:8).

So good old Job desired greater blessings of salvation and exaltation. When such a things happens, God calls together a heavenly council to discuss the progression of the individual and how his desire should be proved. In this case, as the meeting was being held Old Scratch came along to add his two cents and the council let him speak. As with any test of this life, God’s purpose in testing Job was to prove that Job would do all things that God had or would command (see Abraham 3:25), and so the devil’s role became one of the destroying angel sent to afflict Job to the bounds God had modified for the test (go read again for yourself; the council and all of this is fairly plain to read in Job 1:6-12).

(You see, Satan is usually bound in such a manner so as to not be able to afflict us beyond that which our cursings allow, those things that naturally stem from sin, but for the purpose of Job’s progression God changed the bounds.)

But an issue here is that Job’s family perished in the course of this test. That seems to disregard their tests of mortality, or at the very least puts theirs below Job’s in terms of importance. But this is simply a conclusion drawn of incomplete facts. When we have things that are true that appear to be contrary, we are simply missing a third truth. If it is true that this life is a test for each of us, and it is true that some people die to fulfill the measure of another’s test, then by what truth can we conclude that the testing of those who had prematurely perished was completed to the degree they desired or required?

I wrote to you already about those who are taken from us early in life, how they are purer than we are, but do you recall where that purity came from? The preexistence. There were those of us who made covenants and had the faith at that stage to forego the full vicissitudes of mortal life. And yet the fact that they were given a tabernacle of flesh and bone by a mother and a father means that they will come forth in the resurrection of the dead, clothed in glory immortal as our Heavenly Father now has. In other words, they stood against the wind of opposition to a degree many did not and had their spirits quickened before this life was and their covenants did not include having to perform a mission on this earth with their physical presence (there are other pure ones who have a mission to fulfill; Christ was the purest of all, yet He had a mission he had to fulfill physically).

So in the case of Job’s family, “what shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid” (Romans 9:14). They were either pure enough to be through with the test or sufficiently tested themselves according to their desires. Probably most importantly, they were sealed to the man who himself proved faithful to the end who would go on to receive his exaltation with God, exalting his family with him.

So your citation of Job as an example of someone who just had to be patient in order to wait out the troubles of this short life, which resulted in receiving a bigger and better family, is incorrect. Job’s life as a whole is not a story with a simple moral about the insignificance of the suffering life puts us through; it is the story of a man called of God to offer a sacrifice in righteousness made up of his own will and fortune that he might give his family more eternally. it is archetypical of the the wind of opposition which all the joint-heirs of Christ must pass through to be crowned with the highest of Celestial glory.

I believe that you can put it down as a principle: when a man or woman is obedient and true to God, and the winds of opposition are whipped up about them, there is a purpose and a progression to be had if they are faithful to God, His Counsel, and His councils. And it is only after you have passed or failed the council’s test that its true nature may be revealed, for, as the scripture says, “ye receive no witness until after the trial of your [faithfulness]” (Ether 12:6, emphasis added).

—Joseph

Is There No Other Way?

Dear Joseph,

In between this last visit and the one, the missionaries stopped by while I was upstairs and gave my boy (who was in fact Batman at the time and as such they addressed him much to his delight) a printed out copy of an essay by John Sutton Welch entitled Why Bad Things Happen at All: A Search for Clarity Among the Problems of Evil. I read through it once to take it in as a whole and then went through it again highlighting interesting bits and making my own comments in the margins.

I don’t know what the chances are that you’ve read this yourself, but the general impression I got, by way of summary, was this: I should be content to allow others to suffer and die just so that I can be aware of how glad I am that it’s not happening to me.

At one point, Mr. Welch writes, “Slowly but surely I have seen, in case after case, how evil, suffering, and injustice serve as essential creative conditions that allow us to develop nearly every Christian virtue, creating opportunities for goodness and the grace of the Atonement to cure us.”

I pointed out to myself that these are virtues and an Atonement that we would not need to employ or receive if there was no evil in the first place. What point is there in a cure if there’s no disease to begin with?

Welch goes directly on to say, “The development of such interpersonal virtues as forgiveness, mercy, generosity, compassion, and charity logically requires the prior existence of some form of evil, suffering, or injustice.”

Well, sure. But again, who needs forgiveness when there’s nothing to forgive? Who needs charity or compassion when there’s no suffering? Who needs generosity when you want for nothing? God has deliberately facilitated sub-par living conditions just so we could learn to help each other survive them? I don’t throw my kids in a fire pit to teach them how to stop, drop, and roll.

—Thomas

P.S.

I got home about half an hour ago from a Mormon church service. Three hours, they said it’d be. I thought that sounded like a long-winded service, but they included what amounted to a Sunday school class and another gender specific service in there, so we got to stretch our legs in between.

It was a lot less formal than I thought it’d be, for all that they wear ties, button-ups, and slacks when they go knocking door-to-door.


Dear Thomas,

I have never read John Sutton Welch’s essay. From what you are saying, it sounds like he’s trying to explain the existence of evil by saying that it is a necessary element of creation in order to furnish a world where we can develop attributes of the opposite nature. That’s an interesting way of looking at it and, if that is his total explanation, I would say that it serves better as a description of our current circumstances than it does an explanation of the origins of evil.

Before I give my full explanation of the matter, I must give you a little aside. By giving you this essay from a dubious source (I’m actually surprised they didn’t provide you something written by a prophet or an apostle, as this topic has been covered before by higher authorities) it’s apparent that the missionaries are trying to think of anything they can to help answer your profoundly deep questions. I know they’re hoping that something they give you may strike a chord with your understanding at some point. That doesn’t mean you’re wrong to ask such questions; remember, the restoration of the Gospel began with a question! But I do think the Lord allows us to be backed up to the wall of faith at times where we must make our stand or otherwise falter.

This is why they want you to read the Book of Mormon and gain a witness of whether or not it is true. If it is, then—though you may not know the exact reasons behind the forces of good and evil—you can acknowledge their existence with an assurance that the truth of it may be learned when the Lord sees fit to reveal it. I don’t mean to make a witness of the Book of Mormon seem like an excuse for not being able to explain something, but it is the keystone of our religion and if it is true, then all that is claimed by it and the religion it supports is also true; If YOU find out that it is true, then your holdup in logic would transform from a brick high on a wall to a step high on a staircase: at some point, you will be given to understand it step after step.

Nonetheless, I don’t mind trying to help answer your questions where I am able. As you said, it is ‘enlightening and entertaining.’

Let me begin with a scripture:

“For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so,… righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. Wherefore, all things must needs be a compound in one; wherefore, if it should be one body it must needs remain as dead, having no life neither death, nor corruption nor incorruption, happiness nor misery, neither sense nor insensibility.
“Wherefore, it must needs have been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation. Wherefore, this thing must needs destroy the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God” (2 Nephi 2:11-12)

What Lehi here is teaching is that some things never had a beginning and will never have an end. This includes good and evil, light and dark, gods and devils, and you and I. Our doctrine teaches that all of us are eternal, meaning that our intelligence (what we might consider as our minds) never had a beginning and will never have an end. The interesting thing is that the implication here is that we are all as old as God Himself.

Accordingly, God doesn’t and cannot see Himself as better than any of us but—within the spectrum of eternal progression (for He is more progressed than us)—He knows that He is greater than us. The words I emphasized in the last sentence carry very different connotations. This is important. What I am trying to say is that to be better than another implies a differing degree of intrinsic worth, whereas to be greater than another implies a differing degree of development or attained attributes.

This is part of the reason God will not take our agency away from us, for if we cannot choose between opposing forces as He does, we lose our ability to act for ourselves, which thing defines existence (I wrote quite a bit to you about this before). Therefore if we are eternal, and if we exist due to the ability to choose, and the ability to choose requires things to choose between, then those options to us are also eternal. Those options are good and evil, or light and darkness, etc.

“God has deliberately facilitated sub-par living conditions just so we could learn to help each other survive them? I don’t throw my kids in a fire pit to teach them how to stop, drop, and roll.”

The thing to understand is that God did not create the evil and the darkness of the universe—like the matter with which He organized this world, it was already there when He came to it (remember that Hebrew bara means “to organize” and not “to create”). I agree that it would be bad parenting to throw your kids into a fire pit under any circumstances, but this analogy simply betrays your limited understanding of what this life really is (which limitation is completely acceptable at this point). This life certainly manifests evil—your ‘fire pit’—in its varied forms, but it is not a unique aspect to existence on this earth; evil is an aspect of all existence.

The difference is that in the holy company of Heaven, evil appears as it truly is: a detestable sludge that you wouldn’t touch with a 40 foot pole (or maybe it’s 40 lightyears); on earth, this same evil appears as a finely dressed gentleman to whom the world gives praise and power. In both places evil is a constant, but from the higher plane its mask is removed.

(It is possible to attain to that higher plane while living down here because perspective is an individual matter. To get there requires obedience to the principles of righteousness so that you may become righteous and more easily distinguish between good and evil. This is provided by obedience to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.)

“…They taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good” (Moses 6:55).

But the question that begs to be asked is why, why must we come to a place where evil is so disguised? The answer brings us back to the fact that many things are as old as God Himself. When God was not yet a god, what was He? Recall my previous letter about the head of the gods, or the family of the gods, wherein I wrote that He was once a mortal, like you and I. The process, then, by which He became God—by which you and I are to become gods—is the way it has always been done on any other world that has ever been.

Combine this knowledge with these two facts:

  1. Our bodies have been created in a fallen world and so the flesh is prone to weakness (sin and evil).
  2. The veil of forgetfulness placed over our minds, which causes us to choose goodness by faith, also causes us to choose the opposite by faith.

Perhaps you can begin to see that this mortal probation is a place where evil can be presented to us in an appealing way because of where we are—a fallen world. We are left relatively alone to pick between good and evil for that is part of the test of this life, but it’s not because God created the evil or that He created a fallen world. The world became fallen when Adam and Eve fell, and they fell “that man might be” (2 Nephi 2:25, emphasis added; also read my letter to you on the necessity of the fall).

The analogy you must consider should not be ‘[would I] throw my kids in a fire pit to teach them how to stop, drop, and roll’? But rather this: would I subject my child to the shocking and undoubtedly unpleasant experience of being torn from the warmth of the womb to breathe cold air and lose all feeling of previous security just so they could learn to walk, talk, and grow?

The answer is a deliberate and ultimately merciful yes because whether cesarian or natural birth there is no other way to further your child’s development.

Think about that. I know that you would not go back and change a thing if it meant not having those precious ones in your life. Likewise is God a good parent to us, and we are born into a fallen world simply because of this same reason: there is no other way. There is only one way by which a body of flesh and bone can be created, and “it is sown in corruption[, and] raised in incorruption” (1 Corinthians 15:42).

And when we learned we could come to this world in that premortal council that you and I attended, all of us “shouted for joy” (Job 38:7).

—Joseph

P.S.

You made it through all three hours of church! That can be a feat for someone used to shorter stints. In our ward this past week, my wife and I gave the sermons during the sacrament meeting (that first and longest meeting). My wife spoke about Joseph Smith’s first vision and I spoke on the nature of the Godhead.

What did you think of the services? Anything strike you as peculiar?