Saturday, February 23, 2008

Knowing the Only True God

It was Saturday, and I had looked forward to bringing my wife and newborn son home from the hospital so that we could enjoy the weekend together. But an early morning call shattered my hopes. It was Misty, my wife, and she was crying. The doctors and nurses taking care of her and our son discovered that his white blood-cell count was elevated while his blood oxygen level was too low, even though he had already been receiving antibiotics through an IV. Because they feared his tiny body would soon succumb to a strep B infection, they took our son from Misty and put him in a level II nursery.
In seconds, I was on my knees pleading with Heavenly Father to heal my son and to let us bring him home. Trying not to cry, but failing, I called another member of my Church, Sean, and asked him to help me give my son a blessing.

Minutes later, I was on my way to the hospital with my daughter, Briel.
When Sean and I walked into the nursery, a tangle of tubes and wires covered my son. Because a plastic, oxygen hood made it impossible to lay our hands on my newborn son’s head, Sean anointed his chest. Then, gently, I placed my hands on him just enough to feel his skin on mine, and the power of the Priesthood flowed through me. I knew he would be fine. But I didn’t know how long it would take.

After the blessing, our almost-three-year-old daughter, Briel, needed to eat, so I took her home to get lunch. Misty asked me to get some things from my son's closet while we were there. While Briel ate chicken nuggets, I walked into his room. His empty crib and a plaque on the wall with his name overlaid with “I am a child of God” sharpened what I felt after Misty’s tear-filled phone call and after I saw our son covered with tubes and wires. Pierced with emotion, I cried, “I just want him home.”

Drawing strength from the promises I made my son while I blessed him, I grabbed the things I needed and left the room. I thought of the anguish some parents must feel when their child has been in the hospital for days, weeks, or even months. The pain of the few hours of uncertainty was already too much for me. And I refused to think of the torment of parents who would never bring their babies home.

Later that afternoon, my son’s nurse had weaned him off of his oxygen hood, and his condition had stabilized. While I visited him in the nursery, my son's nurse asked if I wanted to hold him. Eagerly, I wrapped my arms around him and swayed with him until his nurse asked me to leave while she and the other nurses in the nursery filed their end-of-shift reports. Two days later, I cuddled with my baby as I rocked him in our living room.

My son had come home.
God’s Ways Are Higher than Our Ways

We are our Heavenly Father’s sons and daughters, and more than anything else, He wants us to come home to Him. At night I used to stare at the stars and wonder where our heavenly home was. The beauty and vastness of space filled me with awe for God and His creations. Still what we can see is just the beginning: there are more stars in the heavens than there are grains of sand on the earth. (See Neal A. Maxwell, “How Choice a Seer,” Ensign, November 2003, 100.) Yet despite the vastness of His creations, our Father in Heaven has numbered the very hairs on our heads! (Matthew 10:30.)

Little wonder that when Moses saw our Heavenly Father’s creations he exclaimed, “Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.” (Moses 1:10.) Comparing man’s greatest accomplishments in technology, literature, science, government, medicine, philosophy, and like disciplines to God’s accomplishments, is like trying to compare a lightbulb to the sun. There is no comparison. Consequently, God’s superiority assures us that we can trust Him, even when things seem to go horribly wrong.

While the infinite works of God may be incomprehensible, our Heavenly Father, mercifully, is knowable. Before leaving His Apostles for Gethsemane and Golgotha, Jesus prayed and revealed one of the most simple and powerful doctrines recorded in the scriptures: “And this is eternal life, that [we] might know [Heavenly Father] the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom [He] has[] sent.” (John 17:3.)

Thus, knowing the only true God must be the focus of our mortal sojourn. For if we know Him, we will be like Him, and if we are like Him, we will return to Him. (Moroni 7:48.)

And Heavenly Father will help us to know Him and His Son. Moses’ vision did not close with his sobering realization of mankind’s inferiority. Rather, Moses asked God a question, “Tell me, I pray thee, why these things are so, and by what thou madest them?” (Moses 1:30.) And God answered:

For my own purpose have I made these things. . . . And by the word of my power, have I created them, which is mine Only Begotten Son, who is full of grace and truth. And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten. . . .The heavens, they are many, and they cannot be numbered unto man; but they are numbered unto me, for they are mine. And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof even so shall another come; and there is no end to my works, neither to my words. For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. (Moses 1:32-33, 37-39.)

This answer confirmed Moses’ recognition of mankind’s nothingness and refuted it. In essence, the Father told him: While compared to Me, mankind is nothing, to Me, mankind is everything. His eternal concern focuses on us.

And because His concern centers on us, God tailors all of His creations, thoughts, and actions for our salvation. How easy it should be to love and serve the God whose energy focuses exclusively on us, His children!
The Father and the Son
Certainly, knowing that we are children of God explains why our Heavenly Father does what He does. How else could He send His Only Begotten Son to suffer, bleed, and die for us? And why else would He, time after time, “gather [us] as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings”?(3 Nephi 10:4-6.) And how else could He look on our iniquity and “spare [us] a little longer” (Jacob 5:50-51) hoping that we will repent and return to Him. After all, our time on Earth is but a “twinkling of an eye” to God, and the veil doesn’t retard His memories of our lives with Him in our heavenly home.

If we could glimpse, for a moment, our lives in our heavenly home, we would lose all desire to sin. But for us to keep our second estate and prove that we will keep all of God’s commandments simply because we trust and love Him, our first estate must remain a mystery to us. Thankfully, the scriptures and modern prophets under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost have given us glimpses of the premortal existence. Jeremiah learned that before he was formed in the womb, God knew him and called him to be a prophet. (Jeremiah 1:5) Abraham saw the spirits who lived with God before the world was created. (Abraham 3:22.) Moses saw the council in which we were all present when Heavenly Father presented the Plan of Redemption and when we accepted Jesus as our Savior. (Moses 4:1-4.) Modernly, President Ezra Taft Benson taught, “Nothing is going to startle us more when we pass through the veil to the other side than to realize how well we know our Father and how familiar his face is to us." (Jesus Christ—Gifts and Expectations,” Speeches of the Year, 1974, 1975, 313.) We lived with God for a long time before we came here, and all He wants is for us to come home.

You and I have felt Heavenly Father’s desire for us to come home. I feel it as I search the scriptures and when I pray, not some superficial prayer, but prayer which necessitates “groanings” because words fail to express what I feel. Maybe a particularly beautiful piece of music, a sunset, or the birth of your child made you “long for home.” (Phillip Paul Bliss, “More Holiness Give Me,” Hymns, 131.) There are many ways that we feel Heavenly Father calling to us, but because He loves us, He will never force us to come. He loves us too much.

Heavenly Father’s plan is a plan of growth. Imagine receiving all that He has as we are right now! (See D&C 84:38.) The roots of Divinity would certainly overcome the tender branches of our capacity. (See Jacob 5:65.) Thus, He must nurture us as we cultivate our talents, attributes, and abilities to become “even as [He] is.” (3 Nephi 27:27.)

And Father sent a master Gardener to bring us into His garners. (Jeffery R. Holland, “Missionary Work and the Atonement,” Ensign, Mar. 2001, 15.) After all, the angels had good reason to sing that first Christmas night. In a vision explaining his father’s dream of the tree of life, Nephi saw the “most beautiful and fair [of] all virgins” holding the Son of God. (1 Nephi 11:15-22.) Instantly, Nephi recognized that the tree of life symbolized Christ and knew that the baby born in Bethlehem was the embodiment of God’s love for His children. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16.)

And God’s love abounded as Jesus walked among men. As Jesus healed and served, He testified that He merely did the works of the Father. (John 14:10.) That is, if Heavenly Father had been in Roman-occupied Jerusalem, He would have healed the sick, raised the dead, caused the blind to see, and lifted the sinner. For it was “God’s love [Jesus was] showing [us].” (Jeffery R. Holland, “The Grandeur of God,” Ensign, Nov. 2003, 72.) The same sorrow which filled Jesus as He lamented over Jerusalem filled Heavenly Father, as did the same compassion which Jesus showed to sinners, even to a woman caught in adultery. How can we imagine a stern and unforgiving God when He refused to condemn one guilty of the heinous sin of adultery? (See John 8:1-11.) True, God cannot “look upon sin with the least degree of tolerance,” and “no unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God.” But He wants us to repent of our sins, and when we do, immediately, He will extend the blessings of the plan of redemption to us until “He takes us on His shoulders and casts our sins behind His back.” (Alma 34:31; Holland, The Grandeur of God, 73.)

Thus the greatest manifestation of God’s love for us was the offering of His Son as the “great and last sacrifice” for sin. (Alma 34:10,13-14.) None of us compared to Christ premortally. The prophet Joseph Smith taught that many years will pass after our deaths and resurrection before any of us attain perfection. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith [1976], 348.) Yet Jesus continued “from grace to grace” (D&C 93:14) until He attained Godhood many billions of years ago, enabling Him to create all things. (Moses 1:32-33.) Despite His premortal perfection, Jesus yielded Himself as a willing sacrifice to the will of the Father. No one deserved greater praise, glory, and honor. Yet no one suffered more. (D&C 19:15-18.) Still, to glorify the Father and to exalt us, Jesus “descended below all things.” (D&C 122:8).

Yes, the angels sang that first Christmas night because over Christ’s manger bed loomed the shadows of Gethsemane’s trees and of Golgotha’s cross. And the silence of that night portended the silence of the empty Garden Tomb.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”(Luke 2:14.)

I know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, who suffered the pains of death and hell to bring us home. And I know that the life and sacrifice of our Savior attest to our Heavenly Father’s love for us.
Born Again

While Jesus is the Son of God, He is also the Father of all those who are born again through His atoning sacrifice. (Mosiah 5:7; 15:2-8.) And we all must be born again to be worthy to go home. Like our physical birth, our spiritual rebirth requires conception and gestation before we emerge as new beings amidst blood, water, and spirit. Because we are children of God, there is a seed of divinity within us. When it’s fertilized by the preaching of the gospel, it will begin to “swell within [us].” (Alma 32:28.) Soon we will have a testimony that the seed is good, but will need much more growth and development, for merely receiving a testimony of the truth is not rebirth.

This was never more obvious than it was with Peter. Peter had a powerful testimony of Jesus and His atonement. He had witnessed his Master heal the sick, raise the dead, walk on water, calm the troubled sea, feed the multitudes with limited food, and cast out devils. And being present at these miracles allowed Peter to believe until he received from Heavenly Father the perfect knowledge that “[Jesus is] the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16.) Notwithstanding Peter’s powerful testimony, Christ, at the last supper, admonished him, “when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” (Luke 22:32.) Peter was still in gestation despite his deep love for and desire to follow the Savior. It was not until after sore repentance—necessitated by his denials of knowing Jesus—and the day of Pentecost when the gift of the Holy Ghost fell upon him that Peter became the rock who defied the leaders of the Jews and continued “speak[ing] the things which [he] had seen and heard” (Acts 4:20) when just a few months before he feared to confess his association with Jesus as he spoke to a common maid and two anonymous men. (Luke 22:54-62.)

While all the details of Peter’s spiritual rebirth remain concealed by history, we see that faith in the Atonement and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, sincere repentance, and obedience to the commandments allowed the Holy Ghost to work in Peter until he “[became] a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord.” (Mosiah 3:19.)

Without Christ’s atoning blood, entering into the waters of baptism and keeping the covenants made therein, and the gift of the Holy Ghost, none of us can become saints. These three elements intertwine:

“By the water[s] [of baptism we] keep the commandment[s],” (Moses 6:60) thus placing us in the “power of the Redeemer.” (Helaman 5:11.) In short, as we forsake our sins, we submit our wills to the will of the Father. Without such submission, God cannot save us because He will not interfere with our agency. (Alma 42:13, 27.) And as we submit our wills to God’s, we allow the Holy Ghost to be with us always.

“By the Spirit [we] are justified.” (Moses 6:60). Because He is a member of the Godhead, the Holy Ghost is God. And “no unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God.” (3 Nephi 27:19.) Therefore, to feel the Spirit, He must first purge us of our sins. His justifying influence actually cleanses us like the garments of the Nephite disciples who prayed to receive the Holy Ghost. (See 3 Nephi 19.)

“By the blood [we] are sanctified.” (Moses 5:60.) We constantly stain our clothing with sin. But through the atonement, the Holy Ghost offers us a change of clothes so that we can enter His presence and He can speak to us and direct us. Two things can happen with our soiled clothing: either the Holy Ghost will take them to the Savior to be “cleansed from all stain through the blood of [Jesus Christ],” (Alma 5:21) or He will return them to us still soiled and stained because we would not let Jesus cleanse them. Obviously, our clothing will need washed many times throughout life. But we can know that we have been born again when we have lost the desire to sin (Mosiah 5:2) and when any stains on our clothing come from inadvertent stumbles and slips—which leave grass stains on our elbows and knees—rather than from wallowing in the mire of the world.

Very few of us, myself included, have truly been born again. I still have my favorite sins. Thankfully, they are not as serious as Corianton’s, but I still struggle, like Shiblon, with pride and with bridling my passion. (See Alma 38-42.) Yet I know that I must give away all my sins to truly know God (Alma 22:18) and find solace in the promise that as I strive to repent and submit to the Savior, immediately He will begin sanctifying me through the blessings of the atonement. (Alma 34:31.) One day, I will be born again; my heart will be changed, and I will be ready to go home.
Sacrifice in Similitude

There are many men and women who have been welcomed home. And all of them are worthy to be there because they “[have] offered sacrifice in similitude of the great sacrifice of the Son of God, and [have] suffered tribulation in their Redeemer’s name.” (D&C 138:13.) To say they have offered a sacrifice of the same magnitude of the Savior would be blasphemous, but the personal magnitude of each’s sacrifice has similar eternal significance.

Speaking in the broadest terms, Jesus’ sacrifice was that of His will. By allowing His will to be “swallowed up in the will of the Father” (Mosiah 15:7), Jesus shrunk beneath the burden of sin, death, and sorrow but finally overcame them. Thus descending below all things, Jesus can lift us above all things. And as He lifts us, we will become “even as [He] is. (3 Nephi 27:27.) Yet during the exalting process of redemption, Jesus requires us to give Him our hearts, even our whole souls, just as He gave His Father everything as He prayed, “Not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matthew 26:39. See also 3 Nephi 9:20; Omni 1:26.)

But giving our whole souls to the Lord isn’t easy. All of us have our favorite sins, and we aren’t quick to let go of them. When King Lamoni’s father offered to give away all his sins to know God, I used to think, “Well, duh!” (Alma 22:18.) After all, sins are bad and only bring sorrow. But as I have matured, I recognized that it feels good to sin. Yelling at an inattentive or reckless motorist feels good after he’s cut you off. Inappropriate movies are entertaining. And bad music, nevertheless, often has a good beat. The fact is, we enjoy sin. Like Esau, we are willing to sell our birthright for a mess of pottage. We must let go of our own respective messes of pottage; otherwise, such Esau-like lack of perspective will keep us from returning home. As pleasurable as our favorite sins may be, they’re not worth our eternal birthright. (See Genesis 25:29-34; Romans 8:16-17.)

Yet to succeed to our eternal inheritance, the cost is much more than pottage. God wants our everything. But what do we really have to give when even the air we breath is on loan? (Mosiah 2:21.) “[O]ur wills constitute all we really have to give God anyway. The usual gifts and their derivatives we give to Him could be stamped justifiably ‘Return to Sender’ with a capital S. ” (Neal A. Maxwell, “Consecrate Thy Performance,” Ensign, May 2002, 38.)

Yielding our agency to the will of the Father means loving Him with all our “heart, might, mind, and strength.” (D&C 59:5.) For if we love Him, we will keep His commandments. (John 14:13.) Thus, those who offered sacrifice in similitude of the sacrifice of the Son of God simply obeyed God’s commandments, even if that meant letting go of their lives or the life of a beloved son. (Genesis 22:2.) Still, even as they let go, they trusted Jesus’ promise: “every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall inherit everlasting life.” (Matthew 19:29.)

And inasmuch as everlasting life means knowing God and Jesus Christ, our submission to God’s will acquaints us with Them. For we are doing exactly what They have done. Our Heavenly Father gave His only begotten Son for our salvation; Jesus gave His life, thus showing us there is nothing more important to Them than our eternal salvation and joy. How is it that we cannot give away all our sins, including our favorite sins, so that we can receive the blessings they most earnestly want us to have? If we let go of our sins and cling to the commandments— even until our wills are swallowed up in the will of the Father—when Jesus comes to take us home, “we will be like him, . . . purified even as he is pure.” (Moroni 7:48.) And we will know Them, “the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom [He] has[] sent.” (John 17:3.)
Home at Last

As eagerly as I wanted to clasp my son in my arms and bring him home from the hospital, my yearning could not approximate our Father and our Savior’s desire for us to come home. Sooner or later, we will recognize that sin is nothing more than swine’s husks and there is “bread enough and to spare” in our Father’s house. (Luke 15:17.) And when we turn ourselves and begin the long journey home, our Savior will walk beside us, lift us, and “succor [us] according to [our] infirmities.” (Alma 7:12.) The path may be difficult, but in the end, it will lead us to the gates of our eternal home. Then, as we pass through those gates, our Father will run to us, gather us in His arms, and give us the ring, robe, and shoes of our eternal inheritance. (Luke 15:20-22.)

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