Replies to Thomas

Tag: obedience

Mother Earth: Eternal, Geographical Inheritance

Dear Joseph,

I can’t help but wonder if my insistence on trying to solve my mental dilemmas with God’s nature is just a by-product of having been raised to believe in him. My psyche can’t let go of something that has been so deeply-ingrained into it from such an early age. I look around to find His holiness at work and all I can see is that blessings and cursings seem to be scattered about all over the earth, independent of anyone’s religious tendency.

I feel like God ought to take more responsibility for the world He gave us and the people He populated it with.

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

The missionaries and I talked briefly about what faith really means. I told them I’m not holding out for the clouds to part and ethereal light to descend from the Heavens before God Himself alights on a mountain top to proclaim the truth of His existence to me personally. If you have proof of something, that’s not faith, that’s knowledge. What I would like, what I think I am waiting for, is just a feeling, the awareness of some sort of connection to something—anything—when I pray. Then I can exercise my free agency and choose to have faith that it is God on the other end of that connection.

I was once certain I had the love of God and then when I reached out for it, it wasn’t there.

I’ve felt like God’s a general and I’m a soldier, but were of two different camps, and even though I’m not under his command, our two armies still fight the same foe. I feel like I can respect His position without feeling like I have to serve under Him.

For me, It’s the implied obligation and debt of servitude to God that causes so much of my anger and turmoil. Like that marathon runner analogy I wrote you before: just because He finished the race first shouldn’t mean I owe him my unflinching obedience.

—Thomas


Dear Thomas,

You have many seemingly scattered thoughts to address in your letter to me, but I think there’s a common thread I can touch upon that will help answer all of your questions at once. But first I need to quote you:

“… Blessings and cursings seem to be scattered about all over the earth, independent of anyone’s religious tendency.
“I feel like God ought to take more responsibility for the world He gave us and the people He populated it with.”

To our limited, mortal perspective, the world does seem to be in turmoil no matter where we look or what groups of people we look to. After all, God “sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). But part of the test of life, is not to see if God will take care of the world, but if we will. He gave dominion to Adam, and that responsibility passes to us (Psalm 8:6). We just happen to be failing miserably, and the earth, a living thing with a spirit, cannot abide our wickedness upon her face without herself revolting and dying.

Old Alexandrian notions of matter being evil led to the eventual loss of the original Christian teaching that God organized the world from unorganized matter that already existed (you remember my letter on the correct Hebrew of Genesis 1:1, right?). These same false notions thought that if God dwelt in “Heaven” it was necessarily high above the earth in a place free from the ‘evil’ matter of the earth. Hence Hell was seen as being even lower than the earth—deep down beneath it in an underground pit of fire, to be exact.

But this is simply not the case. The truth is much more ennobling and wonderful to comprehend: the earth herself is to become the abode of the celestial—the celestial kingdom, the third heaven, the greatest of mansions—whatever you would like to call it, it is the destiny of the earth to become such. This place where we now live is what some are destined to inherit (see Mathew 5:5, for example, where it is said that “the meek… shall inherit the earth;” see also Doctrine and Covenants 88:25-26, 130:9; and see Genesis 15:18-21 for an example of someone actually inheriting their portion in eternity).

The issue, then, is not for God to ‘take more responsibility for the world,’ but for us take the responsibility to tend and beautify it, like God, the eternal gardner, did when Eden was still upon its face. This is done both through physical care and spiritual righteousness.

When wickedness abounds upon the face of our planet, as it does now, she reels in pain. It is only a matter of time before our pollution (and I don’t mean just physical pollution, but spiritual pollution) causes the earth to act strangely and in a manner inconsistent with the predictions of science. The prophet Enoch saw the spirit of the earth mourn with sadness at the wickedness of man in his day:

“And it came to pass that Enoch looked upon the earth; and he heard a voice from the bowels thereof, saying: Wo, wo is me, the mother of men; I am pained, I am weary, because of the wickedness of my children. When shall I rest, and be cleansed from the filthiness which is gone forth out of me? When will my Creator sanctify me, that I may rest, and righteousness for a season abide upon my face?” (Moses 7:48).

What Enoch here observed was prior to the great flood of Noah’s day, an abnormal world event spurred by the wickedness of her ‘children.’ If in our day we look about for physical segregation of curses and blessings into geographical camps that delineate the location of false and true religions, respectively, then we will come up to the conclusion that all is for naught and no one religion contains the whole truth. But what would then be observed is not the lack of a people who worship the truth, but the result of great spiritual pollution blocking the light of Christ from nourishing the world so that even the righteous, who are themselves scattered about the globe, cannot be known by their crops and their sunshine.

Earth: “notwithstanding it shall die, it shall be quickened again… and the righteous shall inherit it.”

In dark times as these, the ability to recognize truth by one’s spiritual senses becomes paramount. As the prophet Brigham Young taught:

“… Man can be deceived by the sight of the natural eye, he can be deceived by the hearing of the ear, and by the touch of the hand;… he can be deceived in all of what is called the natural senses. But there is one thing in which he cannot be deceived. What is that? It is the operations of the Holy Ghost, the Spirit and power of God upon the creature. It teaches him of heavenly things; it directs him in the way of life; it affords him the key by which he can test the devices of man, and which recommends the things of God.”

You, Thomas, have been presented with the Gospel in its restored fulness. Many things in the world will appear to contradict its message and to testify that it is false. But you have a feeling heart, that is where you may sense the Spirit of God, and it is there that you must plant the seeds of belief (see Alma 32:27-34 and Matthew 13:1-23). It is not with the outward senses that you must judge the truthfulness of anything; instead, by the spirit of God you can “know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:5, emphasis added), including the nature of God, which you believe to be somewhat imperious.

Joseph Smith said, “It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God….” I believe you have every right to reach out to Him in faith and feel His love in return. Your expectations seem very level-headed, and your concept of faith versus knowledge (the former not requiring proof) is also very agreeable.

But faith contains a component often overlooked that goes beyond just the hope in the unseen: faith must also be in something that is true. The Book of Mormon phrases it thus: “Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true” (Alma 32:21, emphasis added). So I would posit that if you have not yet felt a connection to a being who you view as your ‘general,’ it is perhaps because there is no such being with whom you ought to be connected.

As an Apostle has noted:

“As soon as we learn the true relationship in which we stand toward God (namely, God is our Father, and we are His children), then at once prayer becomes natural and instinctive on our part…. Many of the so-called difficulties about prayer arise from forgetting this relationship. Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other” (Bible Dictionary, “Prayer”).

One of God’s true characteristics is that He does not imply an ‘obligation and debt of servitude’ to Him, as you say. If He wanted it, He should have sent us here without agency to get it; instead, He desires for His children to willfully choose Him as their Father (reread my letter to you about Satan’s alternative plan of coercion for our lives). If we will be ‘under’ God in eternity, it is simply in the way a son is under his father: it is nature and the one who came before paved the way for the one who came after.

To return to the marathon runner analogy, you said:

“… Just because He finished the race first shouldn’t mean I owe him my unflinching obedience.”

You’re right: our Father in Heaven did in fact run His race long, long ago, and we owe Him nothing for it—not even obedience. It is and always will be our choice to run the course after He shows us how. The fact that you are here on this earth, however, shows that you started the race already—and with the intention of finishing, I would imagine. In other words, It’s too late to consider if you will run the race; now you must consider if you will finish it. Unfortunately, neither you nor I can possibly run the race to the finish: we’re too weak on our own! This is where Jesus Christ comes into your incomplete picture. He is “the way… and no man [could possibly run the race back] unto the Father, but by [Him]” (John 14:6). We must take His name upon ourselves and follow the instructions He has provided (the Gospel) in order to successfully run the race.

Thus it is not the Father to whom you owe your unflinching obedience, but the Son, if you desire to be where God is.

To re-quote Joseph Smith, “It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God… and that He was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ Himself did.”

God’s earth, when He was a man like us, became His celestial abode because He pierced the smog of spiritual darkness that once presented Him with a choice: have faith in what is unseen yet true, or have faith in what is seen yet untrue. Likewise, this earth will become your celestial abode, as a joint-heir with Christ, if you too can see with spiritual eyes to a greater truth than what you have heretofore believed: 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.

Remember, “no man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24). You cannot pray to both a true God and a false one. You must plant the seed of belief of the former in the soil of your heart now: your eternal, geographical inheritance depends on it.

—Joseph

Advertisements

Five-hundred Miles Per Hour at Thirty-thousand Feet

Dear Joseph,

I want to return to the subject of information missing from scripture. Even including The Book of Mormon, there’s still a big chunk of really important stuff missing, confused, contradicted, and inaccurate. I understand humans are responsible for the current state of scripture, and we’re supposed to have free-will and all, but you’d think God would draw the line at messing with the one and only means we have of knowing what He wants out of us. Unrestricted freewill itself strikes me as a foolish notion anyway. That’s just bad parenting! I don’t let my kids do whatever they want, consequences be damned and the kids too. There’s a degree of responsibility God seems to be neglecting here.

—Thomas

P.S.

One of the things I’ve learned since my last missive is that in the 1970’s a manuscript dating back to around 400 AD was found, which was itself a translation of another manuscript from 200 AD. In 2006 National Geographic did a cover story on it. I’m guessing it was because the translation had just been finished, but I don’t know; it seems like a long time to wait around for that. Anyway, the writing is what would have been the Gospel of Judas IF the powers that be (or were) had decided to include it. So now I’m very interested in tracking a copy of this down to see what is has to say.


Dear Thomas,

“…Humans are responsible for the current state of scripture….”

I’m glad we seem to share the belief that the word of God, or scripture, as we have received it is subject to the failings of mortal men. I know many who profess that the Bible is word for word exactly what God spoke. My questions then are, to whom? And for what purpose? I’m not asking to destroy faith, of course, but to bring up realistic questions concerning the origin of scripture. With that said, you’re exactly right that there are holes and contradictions, etc., that make the scriptures imperfect. Though the Book of Mormon stands out for claiming to contain the whole of the Gospel of Christ (and it does), you’re also right in saying that there is other information that is just not there—questions that are not answered.

“[Scriptures are] the one and only means we have of knowing what He wants out of us.”

To most Christians, humanity is consigned to deal with what scanty direction the scriptures provide. But unique among Christians, Mormons believe in modern revelation, that each person has a right and a responsibility to seek after the revelations of God for his or herself, and we believe that God will answer each person’s honest seeking.

The Book of Mormon describes what state that the heart of such an one ought to be like in order to receive revelation. Not surprisingly it’s not just wanting it or waiting for something to hit you in the head. It requires humility, belief, and a true heart—a willingness to live up to what you receive—among other things. Through personal revelation, and revelation for the world through the prophet and the apostles, the holes in our understanding of God can be filled. This might sound idealistic—that God may speak to man in our day—but it’s true! You’re hearing it from someone who knows His voice.

“Unrestricted freewill itself strikes me as a foolish notion anyway…. There’s a degree of responsibility God seems to be neglecting here.”

Why does God allow us to do anything we want, let alone tamper with His revealed word so that generations of people are walking in darkness? Why does he grant us freewill and free agency? It is because He loves us and honors our value, which value He esteems as equal with His. (You read that right: equal!) He is giving us the absolute choice to have what He has but never through force. The principles of revelation outlined in the above paragraph means that we can access Him directly. His answer will most likely not be a pillar of light we see with our eyes, but one we feel with our hearts. His answer may take the form of placing others in our path so that we have contact with the truth (hint, hint). Perhaps if you have recently even prayed in your heart to know more about God and His will for you, I have been prompted by His Holy Spirit to speak thusly with you. Whatever the form—even silence—He listens and knows how to answer us in the best way possible. (And remember, we who measure time with wristwatches don’t know anything more about good timing than He who uses galactic clocks and planetary cycles.)

But if scripture has left many in the dark for generations of time, why would God allow His children to wade without light for so long? I think it is partially an action of mercy on His part. “What? Denying people the word of God as mercy? What kind of blasphemy is this?” My favorite kind: truth. Or in other words, blasphemy against false doctrine (I thought that the former sounded cool though).

First of all, remember how I said that the lowest station a soul can reach in the final judgement is still way better than our current one (the telestial kingdom)? Well there’s that. But also, we believe that mankind will be judged according to the light they received in this life. If some middle-of-nowhere, yak-herding child dies without ever hearing the word of God, is he damned? If so, that’s what I call bad parenting, reprimanding a child for doing something he didn’t know was wrong.

I heard a story once of a mother who severely scolded her boy for going past the corner of the block one day, and in the midst of the boy’s sobs and anguish he said, “Mom, what’s a corner?” God, our perfect Father, will never be guilty of such a cold action. If we see Him this way in scripture, we are missing an important element of the true story, and so the emphasis is on our need to seek out revelation to learn who the whole truth of who He is and what He is like. He will not punish the African child who knew no law, but He will give the child a glorious resurrection and eternal life in the Kingdom of God. The same is true for all who possess any degree of truth: if you have been told that lying is bad but fighting is good, your sins will be composed of the lies you told and not the fights you started (this would be a brilliant place to bring up the doctrine of the Light of Christ, by the way).

So when generations have wandered without the whole truth of God, they are in some ways being shown mercy in that they will not be held responsible for the greater light they may otherwise have sinned against. Those who have the greater light revealed to them, accept and understand it, and then reject it have a fate much worse than those who never knew it. That is why the unpardonable sin is called “the sin against the Holy Ghost” and not “the sin against Dave” (where ‘Dave’ is someone that everyone knows).

If knowing something can potentially be worse than not knowing, why would God teach us anything at all? Isn’t that bad parenting if He is to judge us accordingly? No, because to become as He is and enjoy the life He enjoys requires us to be clean and keep certain laws no matter the light received. Just as an airplane has safety protocols and operating instructions specific to its proper usage and prior to its enjoyment that are more thorough than those of an automobile, even so entering the highest degree of glory in the celestial kingdom requires a specific knowledge and lifestyle prior to entering and inheriting it.

So back to the yak-herding child who dies without the law, he will be held guiltless before God at the last day and counted worthy to enter the Celestial kingdom IF he chooses to observe the “safety protocols and operating instructions.” Again, no compulsion, for if he would be happier not knowing those things, then he will not be forced to know them, BUT he will never know the thrill of flying at 500 MPH at 30,000 FT next to driving a nice sports car. Likewise, though we will be judged by the light we receive or didn’t receive in this life, the truest happiness—the happiness that our Heavenly Father knows—can only come to us if we obey Him, and we will all have this choice.

—Joseph