Saturday, May 29, 2010

Prerequisites: Part One

I recognize that many of you do not share my beliefs. You may be a Protestant, a Catholic, a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist, an Atheist, an Agnostic, or an adherent to one of the many other religious traditions throughout the world. I’d ask you not to reject my message simply because I’m a Mormon. I understand that you may not believe as I do. But I’d ask you to suspend your unbelief during our discussions and wait to decide whether I am right or wrong after we are done talking. And it might take a long time before I finish what I hope to write!

Because we come from such varying backgrounds, I’ll assume that you and I have no common beliefs (I’m sure we do, but we won’t know until we get going.). So let’s get going!

Before we begin our discussion about the Redemption and Resurrection made possible through Jesus Christ, there are a few things we need to talk about as prerequisites. Just as a building needs a solid foundation to stand, the doctrine of the Redemption and Resurrection cannot be understood fully unless we first lay a strong groundwork of foundational doctrine.

As I’ve thought about it, I recognized that there are five foundational doctrines underlying the doctrine of the Redemption and the Resurrection: (1) There is a God. (2) He has a plan for us. (3) He has established laws as part of his plan. (4) He has granted us our free will―what I’ll call agency. And (5) He covenants with those who accept Him as their God.

The house that I hope to build as I write will collapse if I don’t first sink these footings. For some of you, these discussions will be review, for others, introductory. But I hope that they’ll sink deep into your heart and that they’ll edify all of us.

Throughout our discussion, I’ll refer to various books and writings including, The Holy Bible, The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, The Doctrine and Covenants, The Pearl of Great Price, (the links will take you to a brief description of each book) and the teachings of men whom I accept as living Prophets and Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ.

PREREQUISITE 1: THERE IS A GOD

God’s Physical Nature

Millions have debated the physical nature of God. Counsels have formed. Faithful have fought. And it seems that we’re farther than ever from reaching a consensus. This, despite one of the first passages in the Bible: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” Gen. 1:27. So if we want to know what God looks like, we need only look in the mirror.
God has a face. He speaks with a mouth. He has arms to hold, hands to heal, a heart that feels. His eyes can pierce us through to the soul. His mind knows all things. Yet the misconception that He is without body parts and passions has persisted for almost two millennia.
But in 1820, as if to end the controversy, God revealed himself to a boy who wanted nothing more than to follow Him. His name was Joseph Smith. Joseph lived in upstate New York near the town of Palmyra. When he was fourteen years old, there was a great religious fervor. Preachers of different faiths proselytized the community, urging all to accept Jesus. They said it didn’t matter which church you joined, as long as you accepted Jesus. But Joseph soon recognized that as soon as people joined one church, they would begin fighting with members of the other churches about the meaning of the Bible, how to be saved, and the nature of God.
It was a confusing time for Joseph. He often wondered, “What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?” Joseph Smith-History 1:10.
Knowing that God is not the author of confusion, Joseph turned to God’s word, The Holy Bible. He studied daily and mediated on the meaning of the scriptures he was reading. One day, he read James 1:5: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”
Because his words are better than I could ever write, I quote Joseph’s account of the impact that this verse had on him:
Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.

At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God. I at length came to the determination to "ask of God," concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally, and not upbraid, I might venture.

Joseph Smith-History 1:12-13.
On the morning of a spring day, Joseph tested James’ promise in a grove of trees near his home.
Again, Joseph’s words:
After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.

But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.

It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!

Joseph Smith-History 1:15-17.
Joseph Smith saw God and His Son, Jesus Christ. He saw their faces. Their eyes pierced him. He heard their words. He saw that they had bodies of flesh and bone, just like we have. But he saw that their bodies were perfected and glorified, not subject to illness or death. And he saw that Jesus was in the express image of His Father.
God clarified the confusion of ages about His physical attributes to a mere boy.
Yet this theopany merely confirmed what the Bible taught. As I said, we are taught that we were created in God’s image. The Bible also teaches that God spoke with Moses “face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.” Exodus 33:11. Jesus testified that He looked just like His Father when one of His apostles asked him to show them the Father: “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; . . .” John 14:9.
I conclude this discussion about God’s physical attributes by quoting three more passages of scripture. During Joseph’s life, he had the privilege of seeing Jesus Christ many times. One time was after Joseph and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had built their first temple. Joseph said:
[I] saw the Lord standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit, before [me]; and under his feet was a paved work of pure gold, in color like amber.

His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun; and his voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters, . . .

D&C 110:2-3. But Joseph was not the only Prophet who was permitted to see Jesus. Daniel of the Old Testament also saw him:
Then I lifted up mine eyes, and looked, and behold a certain man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with fine gold of Uphaz:

His body also was like the beryl, and his face as the appearance of lightning, and his eyes as lamps of fire, and his arms and his feet like in colour to polished brass, and the voice of his words like the voice of a multitude.

Daniel 10:5-6. So did John the Revelator:

I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet,

Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: . . .

And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks;

And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.

His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire;

And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.

And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.

And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:

I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; . . .”


John 1:10-18.

So to really know God’s physical nature, all we need to do is read the Scriptures. He has revealed it and restored our knowledge of it many times. Because we know the Jesus is in the express likeness of the Father, we know what both of them look like. And one day, all of us will stand before God, and we will see His face and, hopefully, feel His arms clasp us in His loving embrace.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Surprise!

Well, after a lot of thought and the encouragement of a very intelligent middle-schooler, I've decided to "resurrect" my blog. My purpose has changed. The Spirit has been weighing heavily on me that I need to write about the Redemption and Resurrection made possible through Jesus Christ. Nothing has worked for me to write consistently. So I've decided to impose deadlines on myself through this blog. Every Sunday I will post something. The posts will be rough drafts of essays that I hope to compile, revise, perfect, and maybe publish.