Replies to Thomas

Tag: final judgement

Wild Beasts That Are Past Feeling

Dear Joseph,

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

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

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

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

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

—Thomas

P.S.

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


Dear Thomas,

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

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

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

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

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

But there’s a another issue at hand:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Joseph

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Heaven or Hell?

Dear Joseph,

Mormon doctrine teaches that God manipulated pre-existing matter? Is that accurate? So . . . he “built” then, right? He didn’t create. And if THAT’S accurate then I would wonder why we are accountable to him in the first place. We are his children, yes, but a child does not live under his father’s rule his whole life. Eventually the child makes his own way, follows his own path, which we have been permitted to do, but that child does not return to his father’s house at the end of his life, submitting himself again to his father’s authority. A child has his own children, who grow and become independent in their own turn. So now, God is not a crazy ex-boyfriend, he’s an overbearing parent. Sort of amusing, on a side note, that Jewish mothers have a bit of a reputation for that very thing. Hehe, wonder where they got it from? 


“We will all be rewarded for choosing Christ as our redeemer in the council held in the pre-existence. But for those who again (but this time through faith in this life) choose to follow Christ, an even greater reward is at hand.”


And that is fine, and fair, and how it ought to be! Unfortunately, that’s not what other denominations teach, and those teachings seem lacking in logic to me.

And I would be extremely interested in another version of “Heaven and Hell.”


I also want to add that I very much appreciate you taking the time to have this discussion with me. I’m sure you’re “happy to do it” and all that, but it’s still time out of your day that could just as easily be spent doing other things that could make you equally happy, so I’m grateful that you picked writing to me as the way to use your time.

—Thomas 

P.S. 
I love the analogy with the son and the “shiny car”. That is inspired.


Dear Thomas,

You’re right, I am ‘happy to do it,’ and it makes me even happier that you appreciate my time. So thank YOU for sitting through what I imagine must be hours of squinting to decipher my ramblings. I can be verbose at times and I hope you can forgive me if I wander here and there. Your respect of my beliefs has equally fueled my drive to spout more information your direction. So thank you!


“Eventually the child makes his own way, follows his own path, which we have been permitted to do, but that child does not return to his father’s house at the end of his life, submitting himself again to his father’s authority.”

Yes, you’re on to more than you know. Mormon doctrine does teach that in the Celestial kingdom (the highest degree of heavenly glory, where God dwells) we will again live in or be able to enjoy the presence of the Father, but that is not the only distinction between it and the other kingdoms. We define exaltation as being saved in the highest degree of glory within the degree of the celestial kingdom (that means, yes, the highest level within the highest level), and people in this station not only live in the Father’s presence, they receive “all the Father hath” including living as the Father lives. As you mentioned above, it’s sort of a logical step—that is, if eternal families are like mortal families (and they are, minus the depravations of mortality)—to assume that someone who grows up to become an adult goes on to establish their own home and have their own kids.

Likewise, those who not only enter into the baptismal covenant but who are also are married in a sacred covenant in the temple can be together for time and eternity. This is why my wife and I were married in one of our LDS temples; sacred ordinances—far too sacred for a public viewing unlike baptism—can only be performed in a place built specifically for it. There we were married not until at “death do [we] part,” but forever. Why forever? Because we will set up our own Heavenly home and have our “own children, who grow and become independent in their own turn,” someday gaining a body on an earth and having their own children, etc., which pattern we catch a generational glimpse of while here on this earth.

There is a famous Mormon couplet of poetry penned by one of the early prophets that puts it this way: “As man now is, God once was; as God is now, man may be.” This doctrine is very sacred and rejected by mainstream Christianity (along with many of our other beliefs), but that’s why we call ourselves the “restored” church, and not another “reformed” one.


So when our Heavenly Father pleads for us to follow Christ, it’s not just because He’ll get anything more from it, but also because He knows the purest happiness and joys the universe has to offer and wants us each to be able to live like He does and enjoy what He enjoys. But he does gain glory in our eternal life, if we attain it. Just imagine if there was no death so that all of your progenitors still lived on the earth. Doubtless you’d still have left your mother and your father and cleaved unto your wife, as you have now and as the Bible teaches we should, but what would your relationship be like with your grandfather? Or great grandfather? Or great, great, great, great, great grandfather? The farther back you go, the more respect and veneration you would find by nature of his position within the family; put differently, it’s his descendants who would revere him and give him his honor. In the same manner, our Father in Heaven receives His glory from below, not above. 

You brought up another good point though, if God just “organized” stuff that was already around, why do we owe Him our allegiance? God knows the whole spectrum of existence already, and I think part of our being here is for us to learn that what He calls happiness actually is happiness. It’s like, if there was no veil of forgetfulness at the time of our births, we would look around and be like, “Oh yeah, you’re right, this place wasn’t as cool as I thought it would be.” A school of hard knocks, kind of. We are all, at some point, the prodigal son. The thing is God realizes that some of His children will prefer to dine with the swine instead of feasting on the fatted calf, and He will let them do as they choose! In the end, He will place us where we are happiest.


Another reason we ought to give allegiance to Him is because He is the architect of our existence and eventual salvation. Like St. John saw in vision, even the beasts fall down to worship God because they owe their happiness to His creative hands (animals have spirits too). The familial relationships analogy works here too. Though a child won’t necessarily choose to or even want to see his parents again, the fact of the matter is that he wouldn’t be around if it wasn’t for them, let alone have some college money to blow, etc. Similarly, whether or not we choose to praise God for organizing the unorganized into our spirit bodies, and later physical bodies, the fact is that He did it, and we owe our current happiness to Him for it.



Oh yes, Heaven and Hell. As you could probably deduce from my description of the three kingdoms of glory, nothing in that sounds quite “hellish” to our limited, mortal understanding, does it? Well, there is a place called “outer darkness” that will be pretty awful apparently, but we don’t know much about it besides the fact that it’s reserved for the devil and his angels. It’s not surprising that God has chosen to reveal to us more about our highest possible potential than the opposite so as to keep our minds on the goal. We know from modern revelation too, however, that there will be some mortals who will go to outer darkness, but they will be few and far between. They must be the types who say, “there is no sun,” at noonday, sinning against the Holy Ghost. I can name a couple notables who will probably go there, though judgement is obviously reserved for God: Cain and Judas Iscariot. Again, not official doctrine on the names of those who will go to outer darkness, but I feel pretty sure that of all people, they qualify.


But that’s not the whole of it. I mentioned a place called the spirit world in my last message. The spirit world is where our spirits go when we die, when our spirit body separates from our physical body. This spirit world is here on the earth, just invisible (to most of us). The spirit world is composed of two bodies of peoples, those who rest in the glory of God having a knowledge of His plan, and those who are pretty freaked out that they are still alive after leading a terrible life. Okay, I’ve probably generalized that too much, but you get the point hopefully: spirit “paradise” and spirit “prison,” we call it. The essential division is between the righteous and the wicked. This sphere is not just inhabited by the dead, but also by the angels and demons who seek to help or destroy us.

I don’t know how much more to say about it, but it may be interesting to know that the righteous dead who have received the Gospel are trying to preach to the wicked dead who perhaps never had an opportunity to accept it. That is why, as you have probably heard, we do ordinance work—like baptisms and marriages—for the dead in our temples. We don’t dig up corpses and baptize them or something bizarre like that, but we stand in place of them, so that if in the spirit world they accept the work, it has been completed in their behalf and they can receive the blessings as if they had been physically baptized while living (ordinances must be accomplished with a body, you see). We focus this work primarily on our own ancestors though we also do work for all that we can. This doctrine should help drive home the point that God gives ALL of His children an opportunity to become like Him.


In the New Testament, spirit paradise has a couple names including “paradise” itself (Jesus spoke it to the other man on a cross), and “Abraham’s bosom” (one of my favorite chapters in the New Testament, Luke 16). If you read in Luke 16, you’ll see how the rich man describes his feeling of losing out on his chance of being with Abraham (a righteous, departed spirit) as being “tormented in this flame” and desires Lazarus (another righteous, departed spirit) to “dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue” (Luke 16:24). Now, I’m not intentionally trying to set up a logical argument here, but merely prove a point: if the fire of “hell” is actually a pit of fire, how does a dude’s finger extinguish it with just a touch? Obviously, this is an analogy to the forgiveness the rich man desires for his unrighteousness so that he can be counted with the righteous. Likewise, it is part of our doctrine that the fire and brimstone, and “smoke that ascendeth up forever,” etc., are all describing the feeling of unbearable guilt that will beset you when you wake up to the bad choices you were making all along.


That is nearest to what we would call hell, but it is not our ultimate destination. Some day all men will be resurrected (the righteous at the beginning of the millennial reign, and the wicked at the end), and the resurrection marks the reuniting of our spirit bodies with our physical bodies, no matter what we did (or did not) in this life, forever. Then our bodies will be perfect and without flaw, and we will not age, get sick, or die. Christ was the first to be resurrected—He was the only one who could do it—and because of Him and His atonement (which includes the resurrection) we will all live forever. Why are we all gifted back our bodies? Because our bodies are the reward for those who chose Christ in the pre-mortal council, and they are key to enjoying the happiness Heavenly Father now enjoys. 
Who didn’t make that choice, and who will not and have not received bodies? The devil and his angels.

So there will come a day when we will all leave spirit prison regardless of what we’ve done—yes, what we teach is that there is an exit to hell (though we might not say it in those words because it would seem like incentive to blow our money on that shiny car)—and that day is called the resurrection. But then comes final judgement, where exaltation is shown to be ultimately our choice. Again pointing to God’s fairness and love, just as we have no choice but to die in this life, we will freely be resurrected to die no more; just as it is entirely our choice to sin and cut ourselves off from His presence, it is entirely our choice to return “home” by choosing to follow Christ as we did before this life.


And that’s only the surface. Even so, I understand that some of what I’ve shared is very deep to tread in. Please remember that if there are flaws in what I’ve said they are from me, not the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. I know these things are true.

—Joseph