Replies to Thomas

Tag: father

Time: All is as One Day with God

Dear Joseph,

Life: what a waste of time! I find it hard to believe that God would waste time having me and the other billions of humans bumbling about stubbing our toes in cluelessness. And Mormons say we’re here to become like God? Say I’m lucky enough to have until age 80 to do that. Somewhere in the Bible it says God gets one day for each millennium for us. Why can’t I have 80 years of his time (I guess that would be 80,000 human years) to try and become like him? Seems like he’s just proven himself a tid-bit unfair.

—Thomas


Dear Thomas,

There are a great many proofs for the eternal nature of our existence. As I’ve written before, the curvature of the earth itself is a proof of eternity, reality being non-euclidean. Of course, faith operates independent of this or any proof (there are many, for the scriptures say, “All things denote there is a God” [Alma 30:44]), and you will still need to cultivate faith before you can approach God’s presence in your life. But I outline here per your inquiry a few items to satisfy your mind for the time being.

The theme of time touches closely on the non-euclidean nature of reality, and many of the principles implicit in the one are explicit in the other. But let’s start with the grand secret (or mystery) to be comprehended: the universe does not exist in time, but time exists in the universe. Following? Let’s look at this concept a little closer.

Perhaps due to the structure of our faulty, human language (which Joseph Smith termed a prison), people generally assume that the past, the present, and the future are distinct, nearly-tangible states of being. Indeed, time is the accepted “fourth dimension” of three-dimensional space, all subjects of the three spacial dimensions being translated across the fourth at relative rates. Einstein solidified the notions of general relativity and of space-time as a unified substance during the then-blossoming scientific era, and it’s been stuck in our collective heads ever since. Popularity, of course, can never justify a falsehood (I won’t even touch the contradictory evidence of late that is pushing general relativity and space-time off the proverbial chalkboard of “facthood”).

Whatever the reason, humanity is practically born being told to believe that time is something that, if not nearly physical, is at least somewhat tangible. Case in point: the ever-popular, ever-elusive time machine, the subject of so much science fiction that it would seem only a matter of pending human genius before it finally manifests as science fact. But can one who is a denizen of the present be planted in the past—which was once someone else’s present—and then mess with it? Then you get into multiverse speculation and so forth. It’s good fodder for a thrilling movie or sci-fi novel, but hardly the substance of truth!

Lucky for us, God has been anything but silent on the matter, and if we apply our minds to the revelations he has given, we can comprehend this enigma and be glorified by the light of truth—by knowledge (D&C 93:28).

One of the greatest gifts, in this respect, is this word given in the scriptures: “reckoning.”

“And the Lord said unto me[, Abraham], by the Urim and Thummim, that Kolob was after the manner of the Lord, according to its times and seasons in the revolutions thereof; that one revolution was a day unto the Lord, after his manner of reckoning, it being one thousand years according to the time appointed unto that whereon thou standest. This is the reckoning of the Lord’s time, according to the reckoning of Kolob” (Abraham 3:4).

What this verse is saying is that time is measured according to the motion of something relative to the motion of another, and furthermore that this principle is applied throughout the universe. At another time, the Lord says to Abraham that all measurements of time can only be comprehended relative to “that upon which thou standest in point of reckoning,…the earth upon which thou standest” (Abraham 3:5). If you don’t have a ruler, you can’t measure anything!

This is the same principle behind the drip analogy. Say you have a faucet just floating in space and a drop of water drips off the end. Then another drip drops after that. And another after that, and so on. How much time intervened between drips? With no rotating planet around a star like the sun—with no motion beside the drips—there is actually no way to tell how much time intervened, let alone whether the drips are occurring at a regular rate or not. But add a second faucet to the scene and say it dripped with the other but also once between those drips. Now we can establish, or ‘reckon,’ a passage of time: the first faucet drips half as quickly as the second. Now, relative to earth time that still doesn’t tell us how much time has passed—but that’s the point: earth time only means something if you are standing on earth! Anywhere else in the universe and it becomes arbitrary, unless you’re an astronaut in contact with earth and need to comprehend something relative to your former setting—which is exactly Abraham’s situation.

According to the above scripture (verse four; see also what you alluded to in 2 Peter 3:8), one day in Heaven (or the planet Kolob [see Semetic qlb, “heart, center”]) is not 1,000 years because of relativistic space-time distortion compared to the earth (time dilation), but because it is measured in comparison to the earth’s time keeping as 1,000 earth years (365,000 earth days or revolutions) to one Kolob day or revolution (by revolution these scriptures refer to a synodic period, the measure of time needed for a stationary object [the sun] to return to the same point in the sky). Further reading in the same chapter confirms that the simple truth is that Kolob rotates extremely slowly relative to earth’s rotation (1/365,000th the speed, to be somewhat exact). All other planets too have their own reckoning for the beings that live upon them, but it can only be understood by us when compared to our own “ruler,” which is the earth day—the synodic period, approximately 24 hours (an hour simply being an equal division of the synodic period, with a minute being an equal division of the hour, the second of the minute, and so on, relative to the motion of the earth, which the Lord calls our ‘point of reckoning’). Hence 80 years of your earth life is 80 earth-years to God’s experience, he just measures it differently.

joseph_wright_of_derby-philosopher_giving_a_lecture1321039276448

“[…] All the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator” (Alma 30:44).

Now, you may be thinking, “I get it. The rotation of the worlds is needed for measuring time, sure. But how does that make time travel impossible? How does that not make the future and the past aspects of a fourth dimension?” Let’s turn to the words of the prophet Joseph Smith:

“I take my ring from my finger and liken it unto the mind of man—the immortal part, because it has no beginning. Suppose you cut it in two; then it has a beginning and an end; but join it again, and it continues one eternal round. So with the spirit of man. As the Lord liveth, if it had a beginning, it will have an end…. But…God never had the power to create the [intelligence] of man at all. God himself could not create himself.
“Intelligence is eternal and exists upon a self-existent principle. It is a spirit from age to age, and there is no creation about it. All the minds and spirits that God ever sent into the world are susceptible of enlargement.
“The first principles of man are self-existent with God. God himself, finding he was in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself” (Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith [STPJS], 354).

This is Joseph Smith’s famous ring analogy, which says that our ‘intelligence,’ a term that has been uniquely abstracted in Mormonism, which might also be called the ‘mind of man,’ has no beginning and no end. It just is. This is only difficult to comprehend when we fail to see beyond the prison of viewing the universe as existing in time. Start by removing the notion that time is a thing at all. “…Time only is measured unto men,” the scriptures say (Alma 40:8), and so it must be for now—this form of existence between the bounds of birth and death—because this life is a probation (1 Nephi 10:21), in other words it is finite. Like I’ve said before, it’s a testing period, but you don’t measure the passage of life before or after the ACT or SAT based on the timing of that test, and likewise a test taker needn’t measure the time of the test relative to the longer years of life. What I’m trying to say is that time is only ‘measured unto men’ because the test has a beginning and an end—existence does not; existence is infinite. This is important to understand in order to comprehend that time only exists relative to its measurement (movement); time itself, however, is not a thing.

Existence alone is a thing, and either it is or it isn’t—that is all. When Joseph Smith gives his analogy of cutting his ring to produce a beginning and an end, he is saying that nothing in existence follows such a course (though the same matter may be organized into various forms whose appearance have definite beginnings and endings, the matter does not). This applies not only to the ‘intelligences’ or ‘minds’ that exist, but also to the very elements which compose our bodies and the very universe—that which we might term “matter” (though much of what is matter is too pure to be detected by technology had by us currently). As Joseph Smith said:

The elements are eternal. That which has a beginning will surely have an end; take a ring, it is without beginning or end—cut it for a beginning place and at the same time you have an ending place.
“A key: Every principle proceeding from God is eternal and any principle which is not eternal is of the devil. The sun has no beginning or end; the rays which proceed from himself have no bounds, [and] consequently are eternal” (STPJS, 181).

As also a revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants:

“For man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy…. The elements are the tabernacle of God; yea, man is the tabernacle of God…” (D&C 93:33-35).

So also is the nature of the non-euclidean universe: all things that exist are not confined to given finite quantities but reach on in an infinite continuum, whether they be varieties of ‘intelligences’ or fundamental elements (“things to act” and “things to be acted upon” [2 Nephi 2:14; of course Lehi knew this before Joseph Smith]). There will never come a time when the matter that currently makes up your body will not exist somewhere in some state. There will never come a time when your intelligence will not exist somewhere in some state. And as the revelation above stated, joy is had in uniting mind and matter.

Another analogy was put forth to describe a seeming paradox of time: a man goes forth to build a tower exactly 50 feet high with two rules and one constraint: each layer will be exactly half has tall as the last, each layer will alternate in color black and white, and his deadline is 50 days. His first layer was black and 25 feet tall—half the overall design—and took him 25 days to construct. The next piece was white and 12.5 feet tall—half of the remaining design—and took him 12 and a half days to construct. How long will it take him to finish the tower and what color will the final layer be?

The paradoxical answer lies in the idea that no matter how many layers of the tower are added, an increasingly small amount of space will always be left between the height of the topmost layer and the desired height of 50 feet. The paradox of time comes in that, if each layer could be constructed in exactly half the time of the previous layer, the division of time would become so increasingly minute to the point that the tower will never be finished though continually built!

This is of course an absurdity, trying to cram an infinite action into a finite situation: though infinities are attested to in nature and are key to existence, “finities” are just as real and must not be confused or frustrated. It is paradoxes such as this that try and pit the one against the other, reaching a supposed infinite conclusion based solely on the supposition that time is a dimension that can be infinitely subdivided. Even if we possessed the capacity as humans to measure time to the smallest degree fathomable, even an infinite one, the earth would continue rolling upon her wings just the same, with existence being finitely measured out to us just the same. No matter how you measure time, your reckoning cannot change. And this is precisely because time is not a fluid thing, existence is simply a constant, eternal instant of being, measured in movement “from eternity to all eternity” (Moses 6:67).

“So what color would the final layer be, Joseph?” Answer: white or black, depending on how quickly the builder can build. The point is that even the gods building such a tower would end up with white or black given a finite measure of time—like the ring, it has, in this hypothetical situation, been given a beginning and an end. But the gods could go on making an infinite number of towers because they have an infinite amount of raw materials and existence for them is unbounded.

But I don’t believe God wastes his time with trivial thought traps such as a paradox (perhaps because he has grasped such ideas long ago) and we needn’t either if it will not bring us closer to the truth. Probability and other number games can be a dangerous diversion if we do not guard ourselves with knowledge of things as they really are (Jacob 4:13). For example, there is the triviality that some trillion or so monkeys all typing on typewriters have some measurable probability of producing a Shakespearean work. That’s interesting to think about, but the truth is that a trillion times a trillion monkeys will never possess the intelligence necessary to ever, ever do so—none of them will ever do it, ever. Likewise, the beauty of this world has some probability of existing by chance, and yet the principle of entropy does not allow for it, unless Shakespeare himself was actually seated among the trillion monkeys—there has to be an adequate intelligence to produce it. There is an adequate intelligence that produced this world.

“Okay, Joseph, I think I get what you’re saying here,” I hope you’re now thinking, Thomas. “Time is actually just existence, like an awareness of existence, that seems like it is moving forward into the future, but really we’re just measuring our place in the universe? Like, time can’t be experienced faster or slower depending on where you are or how fast you’re moving, but it can be counted faster or slower. Are you saying, in essence, that time cannot be experienced differently but it can be measured differently?”

If that’s what you’ve picked up so far, then yes that’s exactly what I’m saying! Time is motion because an intelligence ordered the cosmos to give us a reckoning in it. Time exists (is measured) in the universe because the universe exists and has movement. By the nature of movement, finite periods are established such as days, hours, and minutes, but these measurements only stand to give ourselves reference in an infinite universe.

Now, when you and I are through with mortality, you may be surprised to find that with your mortal limitations of single-thoughts and single-focus (test parameters) removed, time may seem different. Like dreams wherein you seem to experience a decade’s worth of life only to wake up the next day, our ‘intelligence’ has perhaps an infinite potential for thought, making our ability to comprehend and experience existence in a finite period a much vaster and efficient thing than we could ever now imagine it to be (literally and idiomatically). That coupled with the limitless bounds of existence and access to all the record of the past states of things (and, for some, the future [D&C 130:8]) will produce a state and experience within a reckoning of time that will be so splendid and foreign that there’s literally nothing else I can really say about it. So I’ll let the prophet Brigham Young say a few words:

“The brightness and glory of the next apartment is inexpressible. It is not encumbered so that when we advance in years we have to be stubbing along and be careful lest we fall down. We see our youth, even, frequently stubbing their toes and falling down. But yonder, how different! They move with ease and like lightning. If we want to visit Jerusalem, or this, that, or the other place—and I presume we will be permitted if we desire—there we are, looking at its streets. If we want to behold Jerusalem as it was in the days of the Savior; or if we want to see the Garden of Eden as it was when created, there we are, and we see it as it existed spiritually, for it was created first spiritually and then temporally, and spiritually it still remains. And when there we may behold the earth as at the dawn of creation, or we may visit any city we please that exists upon its surface. If we wish to understand how they are living here on these western islands, or in China, we are there; in fact, we are like the light of the morning” (Discoursed of Brigham Young, 380).

Thomas, I know that you and I lived with our Father in Heaven before we were born on this earth. During that time, he taught you and coached you and did everything he could to prepare you for the test of this life. He, you, and I are each infinite beings, though you and I are passing through a finite phase of existence. He has guided us to this important point with all the love of a tender parent. Where we are now is a right of passage of the gods, and those of us who may prove faithful over a few (finite) things, will be made ruler over many (infinite) things (see Matthew 25:14-30). That is how our Father in Heaven came to the station he is in with relation to us. He is not an overbearing general imposing his unkindness upon us, his feeble creations. We are part of an infinite pattern, and this world is going on much the same as other worlds from which gods have been chosen. Will you wake up to the invitation to follow Christ to the regions of light, to live up to your infinite potential? I testify that Christ is the way, and that he restored his narrow gate through Joseph Smith.

—Joseph

 

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The Devil’s Rebuttal

Dear Joseph,

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

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

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

—Thomas


Dear Thomas,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

temptation of Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Joseph

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

 

The Postman

Dear Joseph,

I haven’t been able to devote as much time as I’d like towards reinterpreting my world view, as you’ve suggested. I mean, I find it hard to be grateful for things in my life when I’ve spent so much time waiting for things to be grateful for and instead have received things I believe manifestations of either God’s lack of care or God’s lack of existence.

I feel like I maybe I could better appreciate praying to Jesus instead of the father because I know something about him—he’s just more relatable. You know, there’s a whole book out there about him called The Bible. You’d think the father of our spirits would make more than a couple casual cameo appearances in there. Sounds like another thing to be “thankful” for.

—Thomas


Dear Thomas,

I want to address the important concept of the Godhead in a way that I think will help you more fully and appropriately approach the Father. I’ve already written to you about the fact that God, our Heavenly Father, is a real person—a being of flesh and bones. But with that said, it’s important to note what else He is and what else He is not: He is a man, a human, like you and I, but enthroned in glory; He is not the Son or the Holy Spirit, two other separate individuals.

By way of analogy, let’s say that you are a farmer in the middle ages (perhaps not a pleasant thought). The Father, then, is like the king in the castle, the Son is like the postman who goes between your home and the castle, and the Holy Spirit is like the town crier (this is a fairly loose analogy). As you can see, these are obviously three separate individuals, yet their duties and roles are complementary and their mindset is perfectly unified. As one, they flawlessly represent the king.

Now, I would be surprised if the bodily separateness of the godhead wasn’t one of the first things the missionaries taught you when you first began meeting. So why do I bring it up now? Let me ask another question to lead up to that answer. Why do we pray to the Father yet go to a church named after His Son? Wouldn’t it make more sense to go to the church of the Father since he’s ‘the king’ of the castle? It may serve to make Him more ‘relatable,’ right? The saints in America during the time just following Christ’s resurrection asked a similar question:

“And [the disciples] said unto him: Lord, we will that thou wouldst tell us the name whereby we shall call this church; for there are disputations among the people concerning this matter.
“And the Lord said unto them: Verily, verily, I say unto you, why is it that the people should murmur and dispute because of this thing?
“Have they not read the scriptures, which say ye must take upon you the name of Christ, which is my name? For by this name shall ye be called at the last day; […]
“And how be it my church save it be called in my name? For if a church be called in Moses’ name then it be Moses’ church; or if it be called in the name of a man then it be the church of a man; but if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel. […]
“And if it so be that the church is built upon my gospel then will the Father show forth his own works in it” (3 Nephi 27:3-5,8,10, emphasis added).

I’m not pretending to have received revelation on the specifics of the so-called ‘disputations’ that these people faced concerning the naming of the ancient church, but I have a hunch based on the last verse I quoted up there: the people then, as now, were taught to pray to the Father for all things as the giver of life and blessings—and they were taught these things by none other than The Son of God, Himself—”So,” they thought, “maybe the church should be the church of the Father, you know, because it’s Him we’re being taught to seek after in our communications with Heaven after all.”

But, as the scripture above shows, The Lord says that the church He established is clearly not the Father’s church but Christ’s church, so call it after His name. Hence we have The Church of Jesus Christ established originally and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints re-established in, as the name says, the latter days. But that doesn’t answer the burning question:

If our prayers are like letters addressed to the king, why do we worship the postman?

“…I come quickly; and my reward is with me…” (Doctrine and Covenants 112:34).

Universally throughout the scriptures, when a revelation (a return letter) was received by a prophet, it was curiously signed by the postman and not the king. For example, in the Doctrine and Covenants, the book of scripture that accounts the revelations of God to the newly restored church in the prophet Joseph Smith’s day, there are at least eleven instances wherein a revelation includes the identifying phrase of the sender of the answer, “I am Jesus Christ.” In the Book of Mormon and the Bible there are similar examples. But despite the postman signing return letters in behalf of the king, He insists that we continue to address the letters directly to the king:

“After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
“For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen” (3 Nephi 13:9-13, which is similar to Matthew 6:9-13, emphasis added).

The point is that the scriptures make it abundantly clear that the postman wants us to write to the king, just as the postman himself does. In fact, whatever we do should be done as just as the postman himself does (see 3 Nephi 27:7, and 27). Why should this be? Because the postman is the only person in the kingdom who knows how to get into the castle, what the scriptures call receiving of the “fullness” of the Father.

“Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?
“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”
“And I, John, bear record that I beheld his glory, as the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, even the Spirit of truth, which came and dwelt in the flesh, and dwelt among us.
“And I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace;
“And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness;
“And thus he was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first. […]
“I give unto you these sayings that you may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship, that you may come unto the Father in my name, and in due time receive of his fulness” (John 14:5-6; Doctrine and Covenants 93:11-14,19, emphasis added).

Will there be those who the postman will not admit into the castle? The scriptures again provide the answer. Speaking in a parable concerning the time when He would finally take others into the castle, the postman declared that:

“…They that were ready went in with him… and the door was shut.
“Afterward came also the [others]… saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.
“But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not” (Matthew 25:10-12).

The postman will only admit those who are ‘ready’ into the presence of the king (remember, the king resides in the highest degree of glory in Heaven). I will now reveal the the key of this whole analogy, which is the key to getting ‘ready’: the postman doesn’t just take our letters when He comes to our door, He knocks quietly to give us a personal invitation from the king:

“Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.
To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne” (Revelation 3:20-21, emphasis added).

The whole point of the postman’s mortal life was to prepare and show us the way back to the king—He ‘overcame’ and went from ‘grace to grace’—it is how the postman became the postman, and thus it is only by Him and His grace that we could ever get a letter—or ourselves—through the castle doors.

Do you see that if we desire to communicate with the king, we must go through the postman; if we desire to worship the king, we must worship through the postman; if we desire to go to the king, we must go through the postman? The church bears the postman’s name not because we are not to worship the king, but because the church is but another conduit through which man must go to approach Him. If it were not so, it would called by some other name.

So, Thomas, Heavenly Father—our king—may yet be a stranger to your heart and mind, but I exhort you to look to the postman. He is the very likeness of His father insomuch that “he that hath seen [the Son] hath seen the Father” (John 14:9). Next time you have a letter to put in the mailbox, wait a moment and listen for a knock at your door. It won’t do to yell “it’s open” or “come in”; you must let Him in from within. Go to church, pray vocally on your knees, read the scriptures daily—these simple things open the door for that unassuming post man.

And when you come to know Him, know that you are also coming to know the Father through Him. You may find that the Father is a lot more ‘relatable’ than you once assumed.

—Joseph

Recognizing Answers to Prayer: A Radical Shift in World View

Dear Joseph,

“God is your Heavenly Father and He loves you perfectly, and He is not a domineering, cigar-smoking authority figure who wants you to bend to his will…. You cannot pray to both a true God and a false one.”

I like what you’ve said here and it makes very good sense. Only thing is, I have been reaching all this time for a connection with a being I could regard as a Father. In being unable to find such an one, I have resigned myself instead to a mere awareness of a non-hostile General. It is an idea that satisfies me at least.

The missionaries have suggested I try fasting to find God. We read three verses from Alma regarding a man who fasted and found God, so they want me to give it a go, with prayers and scripture reading all the while of course. So far, I’ve spent an entire shift at work hungry and thirsty, repeating variations of the same prayer in my head whenever the job didn’t demand my full attention, and reading from Mosiah on my breaks.

Here’s a tidy version of the message I’ve been pushing out into the great wide expanse:

God,

Most people start a prayer to you with an expression of gratitude for something or another but that doesn’t seem entirely appropriate in my case. Too disingenuous; gratitude is one emotion I definitely do not feel when I think about you. I’ve been told that through fasting I might find you. I don’t think that means you’ll come to me if I fast. My guess is it has something to do with my moving closer to you.

This isn’t a challenge to you, like “work a miracle before my fast ends or else”—no, nothing like that. I just want to feel something; I don’t expect to be made to know anything. “Knowing isn’t faith,” I’ve heard. I just want to feel something that I can put my faith in. I’m willing to serve a just cause—even eager to do so—but I need to feel that the cause is just. From my perspective right now, your cause doesn’t look very just.

I have two main questions I would love answers to:
1. Do you even exist?
2. If you exist, is your nature and power anything like the various scriptures describe?

As it stands, in this moment, I absolutely do not believe the latter and I tend toward doubting the former. But in the same way that a person can wish they could fly or teleport of have telekinesis and believe their life could be so much more awesome with any (or all!) of those abilities—even while knowing for a fact that they’re all completely impossible—I can imagine how much more awesome my life could be if you existed and your nature and power were anything like the various scriptures describe, and you were actually in my life.

So if fasting moves me closer to you, if you’re out there, to where I can hear you, feel you, sense you in anyway whatsoever, I’m willing to give that an honest effort. I’ll be like a grown man making a sincere wish to fly, and I’m jumping off the cliff now. I don’t know if you’re there to catch me. If you are there, I still don’t know whether you even could catch me if you wanted to.

But I hope so. I really do.

Amen.

It’s the most sincere prayer I’ve prayed in about a decade.

—Thomas


Dear Thomas,

I can’t help but be moved to tears by the plea of your heart towards God. In my mortal weakness I would cry out that a God who would not respond to such sincerity would be cold and unfeeling, and perhaps not worthy of the name “Father.” In my weakness I would believe that an unmoved being would be better referred to as “General.” As you said, Thomas:

“…I have been reaching all this time for a connection with a being I could regard as a Father. In being unable to find such an one, I have resigned myself instead to a mere awareness of a non-hostile General.”

But my dear friend, Thomas, I assure you that if I who am but a mortal built of weakness (nonetheless I try to be as righteous as possible) am moved in the least degree by your words, then the Father of your spirit, who looks upon the hearts of men (1 Samuel 16:7), is touched with a sympathy far beyond our acquaintances.

This is one of the most satisfying aspects of believing in a personable God: He is a being of passions, as we are, and so He is automatically relatable. The creeds of man-made religions (or at the very least, man-altered religions) state that, “[God is] infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, [etc.].” This is not scripture; this is the precepts of men. As you asked God Himself:

“If you exist, is your nature and power anything like the various scriptures describe?”

Be not deceived by that which appears true, or is mingled with truth, but which is false. Be sure that the being you are seeking to believe in is not the equivalent of a genie with (and I quote Aladdin, the Disney movie), “phenomenal cosmic powers[, but an] itty bitty living space,” because he fits inside of your heart. Such a being is an incomprehensibility, and there is no beauty in an incomprehensibility unless you are a die-hard fan of smoke and mirrors. As the prophet Joseph Smith stated:

“That which is without body, parts and passions is nothing. There is no other God in heaven but that God who has flesh and bones….
“We came to this earth that we might have a body and present it pure before God in the celestial kingdom. The great principle of happiness consists in having a body. The devil has no body, and herein is his punishment. He is pleased when he can obtain the tabernacle of man, and when cast out by the Savior he asked to go into the herd of swine, showing that he would prefer a swine’s body to having none.”

—Joseph Smith,

When we come to an understanding that God the Father is actually a person—body and all—just as His Son who walked among men and was resurrected is actually a person (John 5:26), a forgotten kinship can be reestablished, and you can begin to remember Him. When that happens, we no longer pray to a being whose feelings and nature we can only guess at; we pray to a person who feels as we feel and who is like we are. He knows what it is like to be one of us because He is one of us. The difference between He and us is that He sits enthroned in yonder glory and is more intelligent than we are—but that is not the same as being elevated beyond what might be termed “mere human feelings and simple things such as smiles or tears—yes, even tears! The precepts of men teach that God is cold as a rock and out of our reach to comprehend, but it is not true—He feels as we feel, and the ancient prophet Enoch recorded it:

“And [Enoch] beheld Satan; and he had a great chain in his hand, and it veiled the whole face of the earth with darkness; and he looked up and laughed, and his angels rejoiced. […]
“And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?
“…How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity? […]
“The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands….
“And unto thy brethren have I said… that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood; […]
“…Wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer? (Moses 7:26,28-29,32-33,37)

When I read your prayer, my heart is moved for you. If my feeling is as good a one as I can produce, and if compared to God I’m evil in my righteousness, then how much more shall God’s heart be moved for you, seeing He is perfect?

“Or what man is there of you, who, if his son ask bread, will give him a stone?
“Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
“If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (3 Nephi 14:9-11).

So the question to really answer for you is not whether God will hear your prayer or not; it is that what if, after reaching out “into the great wide expanse” (as you still believe it to be), you receive no answer—none to satisfy you? Assuming all I have written to you on the personality of the character of God is true, then what can be learned when no answer seems to come to you?

“For I am the Lord thy God; I dwell in heaven; the earth is my footstool; I stretch my hand over the sea, and it obeys my voice; I cause the wind and the fire to be my chariot; I say to the mountains—Depart hence—and behold, they are taken away by a whirlwind, in an instant, suddenly” (Abraham 2:7).

I do not believe it would be a productive or pertinent use of my time to attempt to troubleshoot your prayer and fasting. If you are truly doing the things you are doing with honest intent, and the prayer you are praying is as heartfelt as you have written, then there is no problem with the message or the manner in which you are sending it; however, do you know how to recognize revelation—the answer—when it comes, even if you just want “to feel something”?

I will tell you this upfront: there is a critical shift in your spirit that needs to take place in order for you to get anything out of the conduit to Heaven. As evidence of this need, I will quote your own words:

“Gratitude is one emotion I definitely do not feel when I think about you[, God].”

Your life experiences have hardened your heart to the point where you have made the above statement. There is no fault there. However, if you desire to recognize revelation when it comes to you, you will have to soften your heart on this point. What is being betrayed of your world view when you make the above admission is that you do not see God’s hand in your life anywhere; there is no need to thank Him for anything because He has done nothing in your life worth thanking Him for. In other words, you’ve put the blinders up and you willingly choose to remove God from the equation of anything good.

Is this a correct stance to take? Are you justified in believing that God has ignored you all your life?

There was a man who aided Joseph Smith as a scribe when the Book of Mormon was being translated whose name was Oliver Cowdery. Before Joseph and Oliver’s first meeting, Joseph was given to know exactly when and where Oliver would arrive to seek him out. And so when the appointed time came, Joseph greeted Oliver and told him exactly how Oliver had come to arrive at that place. Oliver was stunned and wanted to know how Joseph could have known such a thing. Despite Joseph’s telling Oliver that it was the workings of the spirit of God, Oliver put up the blinders and couldn’t believe it. In a revelation that Joseph Smith later received, God reminded Oliver of this fact:

“Verily, verily, I say unto thee[, Oliver], blessed art thou for what thou hast done; for thou hast inquired of me, and behold, as often as thou hast inquired thou hast received instruction of my Spirit. If it had not been so, thou wouldst not have come to the place where thou art at this time.
“Behold, thou knowest that thou hast inquired of me and I did enlighten thy mind; and now I tell thee these things that thou mayest know that thou hast been enlightened by the Spirit of truth” (Doctrine and Covenants 6:14-15, emphasis added)

As you can see from the language of this revelation, Oliver had been acting according to the ‘Spirit of truth’—guided to the place he now was—without knowing it! Once Oliver shifted his world view to one that included God in the equation of all things good, he could look to the past and clearly distinguish the influence of God in his life, which enabled him to slowly recognize the operations of the Spirit of God in the present.

If you are to recognize God’s answer to your seeking, you must have the spiritual vision to look ahead in faith, which is marked by an awareness of the workings of God in your past. Without these things, you are like the person who stays indoors for fear of the trees, though his house is made of wood. It’s akin to the message given in a monologue by Reverend Graham Hess, played by Mel Gibson, in the movie Signs:

“People break down into two groups. When they experience something lucky, group number one sees it as more than luck, more than coincidence. They see it as a sign, evidence, that there is someone up there, watching out for them. Group number two sees it as just pure luck. Just a happy turn of chance…. For them, [an abnormal] situation is a fifty-fifty. Could be bad, could be good. But deep down, they feel that whatever happens, they’re on their own. And that fills them with fear. Yeah, there are those people. But there’s a whole lot of people in group number one…. And deep down, they feel that whatever’s going to happen, there will be someone there to help them. And that fills them with hope.
“See what you have to ask yourself is what kind of person are you? Are you the kind that sees signs, that sees miracles? Or do you believe that people just get lucky? Or, look at the question this way: Is it possible that there are no coincidences?”

I have found in my own life that God most often speaks to me in symbols, which have the power to convey much more than mere words. Language is sometimes a prison for our thoughts, and it should be no surprise that when God speaks He chooses to break free of that confinement. When I was riding my bike one night as a missionary in Taiwan, I looked up and I saw a most illuminating vision. In my journal I recorded:

“In the dusk, as shades of amber and grey kicked up into the darkening blue from city around us, I saw that the light was truly speaking to me, testifying that God rules in the heavens. And below lay an expanse of sharp edges and smoke, all illuminated by red lights but appearing black as grime…. Clawing the hills I beheld the smoke stacks of industry—pillars of worldly righteousness. All of this business gripped the land like a molten, crusty chain… strewn tightly across it. Above, the familiar colors of the setting sky painted by Heavenly Hosts proclaiming the omnipotence of a Heavenly Father; below, His children blinded by idols, an enraptured audience to a sinister soliloquy of laughter coming from the head of the dark chain.”

God speaks to man, you and I, “according to their language, unto their understanding” (2 Nephi 31:3), so do not be under the impression that because I looked up into the sky and experienced a certain something that you must have the same experience. Whatever the means will be that God will use to communicate with you, it will be perfectly understandable to you, but only if you recognize it.

The key is that God has already been working in your life. As I wrote to you before, if this were not the case you would not be where you are now presented with the restored Gospel. It’s been the process of your life to find fault with God, and that’s natural if not expected per the course your life has taken, but now you must use your agency and open your eyes to His goodness and mercy—the guidance of His Spirit of truth—in your life. Simply put, you must repent, which for you includes what I will call a radical shift in world view (Bible Dictionary, “Repentance”).

When you do, the rain upon the mountains, the color of the sunsets, and the time spent with missionaries will reveal a real, personable Someone you’ve only briefly forgotten.

—Joseph