In the book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe there's a part where Aslan (the lion) sacrifices himself to save Edward who had become addicted to Turkish Delight (or in my case, Kentucky Fried Chicken).
I'm sure you've read the book, but to refresh your memory, Narnia was governed by The Deep Magic: laws established at the time of its creation.
The laws of Deep Magic were inscribed upon a stone table and stated that the lives of any traitors were forfeit. So you see where this is headed: Edward was toast.
As you know, Aslan offered himself in place of Edward in a classic ransom-substitution-theory of the atonement which C.S. Lewis held.
The first time I read the scene as a boy ─ how the wicked creatures shaved Aslan's mane to humiliate him; muzzling and kicking him as he submitted to their cruelty ─ I was moved to tears.
The Witch takes her stone knife and slays Aslan. Thus the Deep Magic was satisfied.
The Deeper Magic
You turn the page to the next chapter, heartbroken, and discover one of the greatest plot twists ever. Unbeknownst to the Witch, there is "The Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time," which was written on the underside of the stone table. It said if someone offered their life willingly in the place of a traitor, it would reverse death itself.
Because Aslan lived the Deeper (higher) law, the stone table cracked, splitting in two, and overcame death.
The Deepest Magic
Am I the only one who thinks the gospel of Jesus Christ is one big plot twist?
The devil wants us to stay rooted in the Deep Magic; he wants us to study it and follow it and never turn the page to the next chapter. Good grief, if we kept reading, we might learn what the higher law can do!
And so I wonder if many of us approach the gospel like the Witch, using the law of Deep Magic to demand justice; we follow very Levitically-ordered lives, our burnt offerings becoming transactional and burdensome.
Like Aslan at the end of that awful chapter, the risk of all religions is to remain bound and captive upon the stone table. Our religions are full of death and nihilism and legalism. How easily we become fixated on the lesser law (what the scriptures call spiritual "blindness") and fail to see the miracles that lie beneath the table; over time, we may come to worship the stone table over the lion.
This post is going to be about the Deeper Magic ─ the Deepest Magic of all. I think we're ready. It is time we receive the principles of a higher, celestial law.
Today we will break the stone table.
Of Prototypes and Enemies
Let's begin with two quotes; the first is by Joseph Smith:
"Salvation is nothing more nor less than to triumph over all our enemies and put them under our feet." (TPJS, 297).
This raises a lot of questions. Why are there so many enemies in the first place? Why would anyone in their right mind be enemies with God (or is the natural man crazy)? How do we "triumph" over our enemies? What happens to these enemies once we've triumphed over them?
I think a good place to look for answers is in the example of Jesus Christ (which brings us to the second quote).
"Where is the prototype? Or where is the saved being? We conclude as to the answer of this question there will be no dispute among those who believe the Bible that it is Christ." (Lectures on Faith, Lecture 7:9).
So the Deepest Magic marks the path Jesus walked Himself; the path that leads to exaltations and crowns, by which Jesus overcame all enemies.
The question we should be asking, then, is this: How did Jesus triumph over His enemies?
Tips for Triumphing Over Our Enemies
Now that we see the objective (stomping on the bad guys), this should be easy. The quickest way to victory is to subdue the enemy by using superior force, right? "Bring out the tanks and missiles; we are at war!"
But hold on. Is using force against our enemies the best option? "When we undertake to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men" (D&C 121:37) . . . well, shoot!
Did Christ nuke his enemies to kingdom-come like the sons of Zebedee wanted?
And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them?
No, no, that wasn't the way. Jesus "rebuked them" (so we may put away our bombs for a moment):
But Jesus turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.
For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them.
Hmmm. This is gonna be a lot harder than I thought if we can't blow-em-up.
How about we confine our enemies to internment sites where they can't do any more damage? Yes, round-em-up and stash them all someplace safe, where they can't harm us. Isn't that putting them "under our feet"?
Well, did Jesus create concentration camps lined with barbed wire to keep His enemies from escaping? No.
I'm stumped; if we can't kill them and can't get rid of them, what's left? How do we defeat an enemy we can't even attack?
Oh yes! Love them.
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.
Waaaaiit a minute. How is this going to work? I mean, how does "loving our enemies" have anything to do with triumphing over them?
I want to share some insights from someone you probably have never heard of, Robert Capon, who is now dead, but who gifted the world with some brilliant writings. Grab a hot chocolate and blanket, cozy up to the fire with a loved one or pet, and take your time to read what he said:
The Bible is concerned with the perfecting of what God made, not with the trashing of it. How does God get the job done? What does the Bible say about the way he uses his power to achieve his ends?
God intends to build a holy city but proposes an exceedingly strange way of going about it. At the end of the Gospels, Jesus simply disappeared, leaving ─ as far as anybody has been able to see in the two thousand or so years since ─ no apparent holy city, no effective kingdom able to make the world straighten up and fly right.
Furthermore, God's reasons are even more of a mystery than are his methods. Why doesn't he intervene? Straight-line power ("use the force you need to get the result you want") is responsible for almost everything that happens in the world. And the beauty of it is, it works.
Unfortunately, straight-line power has a whopping limitation: it is useless in creating and maintaining loving relationships.
Say, for example, you take your enemy and beat him until you can't beat him any harder. What have you achieved? Then you chain him to a radiator till. What next? At some point in that difficult, personal relationship, the whole thing will be destroyed unless you ─ who on any reasonable view should be allowed to use straight-line power ─ simply refuse to use it.
In other words, you decide that instead of dishing out justifiable pain and punishment, you are willing, quite foolishly, to take a beating yourself.
Martin Luther called this "Left-Handed Power": it is a power that looks for all the world like weakness; intervention that seems indistinguishable from non-intervention. More than that, it is guaranteed to stop no determined evildoers whatsoever!
The only thing it does insure is that you will not ─ even after your chin has been bashed in ─ have made the mistake of closing any interpersonal doors from your side.
Which may not, at first glance, seem like much of a thing to insure, let alone like an exercise worthy of the name of power. But when you come to think of it, it is power ─ so much power, in fact, that it is the only thing in the world that evil can't touch.
On the mount of temptation, Satan talks right-handed power. The devil does strike us as having the best lines. What he says makes sense to our inveterately right-handed souls.
"If you're really the Son of God," the devil says, "Do something. The world is going to hell in a handbasket. This world could be a gorgeous place if only someone with enough power would smack it into line. Go into the phone booth and come out Superman, swinging!"
Jesus refuses. "Good grief," the devil says. "You're the Messiah; between the two of us we'll have this place turned back into Eden in six months."
Jesus' last earthly act (the Ascension) was utterly consistent with the rest of his ministry. It was, from the point of view of exercising power, a bizarre and paradoxical conclusion to a bizarre and paradoxical career. It was not, and will never be, our idea of what he ought to have done.
The Ascension makes no worldly sense at all. The portrait the Gospels paint is that of a lifeguard who leaps into the surf, swims to the drowning girl, and then, instead of doing a cross-chest carry, drowns with her, revives three days later, and walks off the beach with assurances that everything, including the apparently still-dead girl, is hunky-dory. Just look at the the two thousand years worth' of tombstones.
But now, the mystery of the Kingdom, which was fully accomplished in the risen and ascended King, has been replaced by a vision of a kingdom to be accomplished by a series of intelligible, selective patch jobs.
The sad part of it all is that if the world could have been saved by that kind of minor meddling, it would have been.
And so we come to the harvest at the end of the world. "Finally!" you think, "Jesus is going to give the world an eschatological comeuppance we know and love so well." Every last one of us is an eschatological junkie. We are so consumed that wrongs must be set right and that evildoers must be run out of the New Jerusalem that we actually believe the Holy City can be brought into being by means of cops-and-robbers games.
I know that by now you are mighty tired of all this emphasis on the Divine Sweetness. You are just itching to remind me that at the harvest, the weeds are going to be bound up in bundles and burned. Take one drag on that thought and we proceed to fantasize about a final score-settling session (one that none of us, except for God's forgiveness, could possibly survive).
Jesus' teachings, it seems to me, does not say that resistance to evil is morally wrong, only that it is salvifically ineffective. Theology has yet to save anybody. What saves us is Jesus; the way we lay hold on Him is by faith. I resolutely refuse to let faith mean anything other than trusting Jesus.
It's me again, Tim. After reading Capon's comments, I am struck by the thought that, if we trusted Jesus (really trusted Him), we would not use straight-line power to build His kingdom.
Instead, we would follow Christ's example and employ left-handed power (which is the way of love and submission).
The point I hope to make is kind of subtle: in choosing the way-of-submission to our enemy, we find the greatest liberty (ironically) in placing ourselves under another's power, and thereby triumph over them, whilst by all measure, it appears they have won.
Because we must never forget that as we triumph over our enemies, we must always leave the door open to reconciliation; we must be careful not to burn bridges and salt the earth in our righteous zeal.
Jesus yielded to Pilate and Herod; He placed Himself in the hands of the Roman soldiers (never summoning the legions of angels champing at the bit to swoop down and rescue him).
To transcend the thing we oppose we must often submit to it. In this way Christ overcame death ─ not by avoiding it, but by passing through it, and under it, and over it.
"Resist Not Evil"
As long as we're fighting against our enemy, they hold a certain power over us.
In the coming days, there will many more lines drawn in society, dividing brother against brother, father against son (ones that will make the COVID wars look like elementary school tetherball). We are going to have to love our enemies and actively bless those with whom we disagree.
I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
(Matt. 5:39, 41)
As we enter tough(er) times, please remember how the Lord taught us that taking up His cross sets us upon a path ending with Roman nails; when we become the Children of God, we will suffer injustice.
But to paraphrase Clark Burt, "Don't allow our discontent to make us malcontent."
While the scriptures speak about abasement and ascension, the stars sing of it.
Writ large across the Logos-Sky we discover the word of God preserved against human touch, where constellations immune to apostasy continue to testify of Christ.
If that sounds weird ― as if speaking about signs in heaven is "esoteric" and uncomfortably close to astrology, some fringe part of our otherwise sensible faith ― then think again! Alma has a word for us; he doesn't consider the signs written above to be "top shelf" at all:
And all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.
Now, don't read those words as a cosmological argument Alma was giving Korihor for God's existence ― you know, saying there's a bunch of rocks-in-space so someone had to put them there. No, Alma was teaching something quite different.
It is not the existence of extraterrestrial bodies that is significant, but their particular "signs" (Korihor had asked Alma for a sign, so Alma gave him the sign of the High Priesthood, if you read between the lines; but Korihor rejected it, and so received a cursing in consequence).
The point I am trying to make is the stars aren't up there just hanging out, saying, "There's a God." No, they've got a lot more to say than that! They sing across light years to teach us: "Let me tell you about who God is."
And if we listen, we might just "see God moving in his majesty and power" (D&C 88:47). If we haven't seen God, maybe we've been looking in the wrong places.
The planets, their rotations and seasons; the constellations; they mean something. Which is why Abraham 3-4 (and the temple endowment) all use celestial imagery to convey truths about . . . us. About who we are.
Let me ask: have you ever looked up at the night sky and felt something stir deep within you ― a sense of awe, maybe, or reverence? If so, then we are resonating with our true nature: the part of us that is "gnolaum, or eternal" (Abraham 3:18).
What’s the Big Dipper Deal? Imagine living next door to a construction site that's erecting a high- rise office tower. Unfortunately, the developer runs out of money so construction stops half-way, leaving an unfinished structure.
Every morning you look out your kitchen window and see the shell-of-a-building, all metal struts and copper wiring and concrete and rough-plumbed pipes, an eye sore making you pray someone will come along and finish the project.
Well, the Restoration is like that. It is incomplete and cannot be finished until we have the lost knowledge of the heavens. This knowledge was part of the High Priesthood originally; it is from the beginning.
(I wonder if those claiming the same priesthood as Enoch would be able to demonstrate their bona-fides by walking among the stars (heavens), as Enoch did.)
The Kokaubeam (stars or great lights) occupy real time-and-space (see Abraham 3:7), all according to the reckoning of Kolob. Kolob is the governing star and, in a nice bit of bait-and-switch, represents the Lord Himself.
Kolob holds the key of power and first government (right of Firstborn), who is nearest to the throne of God (see Facsimile 2).
But the records of the fathers, even the patriarchs, concerning the right of Priesthood, the Lord my God preserved in mine own hands; therefore a knowledge of [okay, here we're gonna see what Abraham thinks the "right of Priesthood" is all about] the beginning of the creation, and also of the planets, and of the stars, as they were made known unto the fathers.
So while we don't seek for "signs" (D&C 63:8-9), there's an exception! When it comes to times, signs, and seasons ― these things we're actually supposed to seek after.
But why? Why is learning this important? Why is the Priesthood inseparably connected with astronomical signs and tokens? Why is our temple-ascent modeled after the heavens?
I mean, when I was 13 years old I got the astronomy merit badge as a Boy Scout at Maple Dell; I took classes in college that taught me about gravity and black holes . . . do we really need to understand all this other stuff?
How will unsealing the constellations help us be better disciples?
Morning Stars and Evening Stars
The scriptures talk about "morning stars."
The morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.
God promises his faithful children, "I will give him the morning star" (Revelation 2:28). What does it mean to receive, or become, a morning star?
Well, these are the "sons of God." That makes sense, since Lucifer was a "son of the morning" (D&C 76:26).
Jesus calls Himself "the bright and morning star" (Revelation 22:16). So what's the difference between Lucifer, a son of the morning, and Jesus, a morning star?
And while we're on the subject, what exactly is the evening star? Surprise! The (1) morning star and (2) evening star are (wait for it) ― the same star (but at different points of its circle).
They both refer to the planet Venus. Venus is called earth's "twin" because it's next to us in the solar system and is about the same size and density as the earth.
When Venus appears on the Eastern horizon before sunrise, she is called the morning star.
When Venus appears in the West after sunset, she is called the evening star.
(Did you know the Levites offered sacrifices at morning and at evening?)
Unlike Jesus who condescended (1 Nephi 11), Lucifer was "cast down" (Moses 4:3).
That's a big difference.
It's easy to see ascent and descent symbolism in the rising and setting of the sun (or at least it was for the Egyptians).
Less apparent, but even more profound, is the descent cycle and rebirth of the Moon. Each month we witness the Moon's progress as it wanes and waxes.
The pointed parts of the Moon's crescent are called "horns." Because the Moon doesn't have its own light, the horns always face away from the Sun.
In the northern hemisphere, the Moon's horns point left during its waxing phase and point right during its waning phase.
But during the winter (January - March), the angle of the Moon's lunar orbit shifts on the horizon, reorienting the horns upward (as if it were smiling).
And the Gods organized the lights [pretend this is talking about intelligences or spirits] in the expanse of the heaven, and caused them to divide [how are we "divided"?] the day from the night; and organized them [how are we "organized"?] to be for signs and for seasons.
It shouldn't surprise anyone to find the psalmist using the stars (think: who do they represent?) to depict God's love:
The sun to rule by day: for his mercy endureth for ever: The moon and stars to rule by night: for his mercy endureth for ever.
If you take a circle (sorry, flat earthers) and cut it in half from top to bottom, you are left with two halves or segments.
In a creation cycle, when you take the right side (think: horn or shoulder) you have the Melchizedek priesthood represented.
Driving home from work, I had some thoughts I wanted to record while remaining hands-free (safety first).
So I told Siri to email me, and I dictated a message to myself.
When I returned home and opened my inbox, the email was titled "European Salmon." What?
Siri had mistranslated . . . Urim and Thummim.
The words Urim (Hebrew: אוּרִים "lights") and Thummim (Hebrew: תֻּמִּים possibly "perfections") were applied by Joseph Smith to the earth in its exalted state (D&C 130:9).
Would it surprise anyone that the planetary spirit body we affectionately call Earth follows a descent/ascent cycle like we do?
How is the earth's eternal progress connected to ours?
The Greeks called the earth-spirit Gaia (Γαῖα), meaning "land" or "earth." She was a personified deity who was the mother of all life.
And I, the Lord God, formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul, the first flesh upon the earth.
Here we learn a "living soul" requires two things: (1) elemental-earth-matter (dust from the ground); and (2) the breath of life. What is that?
And the spirit and the body are the soul of man. And the resurrection from the dead is the redemption of the soul.
Ask yourself: how can our body (dust) be redeemed unless the earth to which that dust belongs is also redeemed?
Does this mean our redemption is contingent upon the redemption of the earth as well, in and through the atonement of Christ?
And the redemption of the soul is through him [Christ] that quickeneth all things, [including the earth] in whose bosom it is decreed that the poor and the meek of the earth shall inherit it [ah, so it is related!].
The only sermon I've ever needed on earth-stewardship and caring for the environment in a godly manner is this doctrine: our fates are bound together; we are of the earth; we are "one."
For after it [the earth] hath filled the measure of its creation, it shall be crowned with glory, [just like God's spirit children, the earth receives its own crown] even with the presence of God the Father [why does the earth require exaltation?].
Read on for the answer to that question and a new twist on our eternal relationship with the earth:
That bodies who are of the celestial kingdom [where does the "elemental" matter for those celestial bodies come from?] may possess it forever and ever; for, for this intent was it made [we're seeing a whole new "plan of salvation" here, aren't we?] and created, and for this intent are they [us] sanctified.
So I think it is safe to say the way we treat the earth and how we manage our stewardship of her bounty matters a great deal.
The Good Earth
In Greek mythology, Gaia came from Chaos, who was the first thing to exist ― "the gaping void."
And the earth was without form, and void.
I want to suggest the descent/ascent cycle is symbolically represented in the Creation account.
Look closely at the how a Day is ordered (it is very Jewish):
And the evening and the morning were the first day.
Which comes first? Night.
The Day-cycle commences by descent into darkness (evening) and completes (closes the circle) through ascent (morning).
There are six creative periods in the Creation account, followed by a heavenly Sabbath.
Is it possible each of these "Days" represent an aspect of our descent and ascent up the ladder, as we progress from one estate to another?
The Earth descended (or "fell") with Adam, her Steward (Moses 3:15). In partnership, they died spiritually; and one day the earth will die physically as well:
Yea, notwithstanding it [the earth] shall die, it shall be quickened again.
The good news is we are eternally-blessed to have an Earth that is righteous:
The earth abideth the law of the celestial kingdom, for it filleth the measure of its creation, and transgresseth not the law―
Wherefore, it shall be sanctified [ascend].
Well, that's good news!
There are some interesting parallels between our doctrine of Zion and the earth's destiny.
In the great Covenantal Vision we read in Moses 7, between Enoch and the the Lord, we read the words spoken by the Earth consciously.
Prior to receiving its baptism of water (and again before it receives its baptism of fire at the Second Coming), the earth is polluted and defiled: "the power of Satan was upon all the face of the earth" (Moses 7:24).
Notice the temple-symbolism of the following image:
[A great chain] veiled the whole face of the earth with darkness.
The wickedness of humanity causes great sickness in the earth; she internalizes our pain and weeps with us.
And Enoch looked upon the earth; and he heard a voice from the bowels thereof, [notice where the vocal chords of the earth are hidden, in her "bowels"] saying: Wo, wo is me, the mother of men; [how does she identify? As a mother; our mother!] I am pained, I am weary, because of the wickedness of my children. [I hope the significance of this is not lost on any of us] When shall I rest, and be cleansed from the filthiness which is gone forth out of me? [where does filthiness originate?] When will my Creator sanctify me?
Perhaps we read these words like a poem, as a beautiful personification of an inanimate celestial body.
But not Enoch. He took the earth's words quite literally.
And when Enoch heard the earth mourn, he wept, [have we? have we wept for her?] and cried unto the Lord, [have we? have we prayed for her?] saying: O Lord, wilt thou not have compassion upon the earth?
A Word About Zion
Our relationship with the earth is directly related to the deliverance of Zion. How are the faithful delivered? Or I should ask: Who protects the children of Zion?
And so great was the faith of Enoch that he led the people of God, and their enemies came to battle against them; he spake the word of the Lord, and the earth trembled, and the mountains fled, even according to his command; and the rivers of water were turned out of their course.
Sure, we credit the word of God for this miraculous power; but have we considered the power of Enoch's love for the earth, and her responding in kind?
The New Jerusalem will be a "land" of peace; a "place" of safety. As it was in the beginning, so it shall be again when the land masses of the earth shall be restored and united again (we call it Pangaea).
And the islands shall become one land; And the land of Jerusalem and the land of Zion shall be turned back into their own place, and the earth shall be like as it was in the days before it was divided.
The land masses moving, the earthquakes they cause, are the contractions of a mother giving birth ― in this case, the earth giving birth to Zion.
And an highway shall be cast up [this is like a birth canal] in the midst of the great deep.
From the bowels of the earth, the Lord shall "bring forth rich treasures unto the children of Ephraim" (D&C 133:30).
So if any of us desire to be part of "Zion," a good place to start is to make friends with the earth. How else will the deserts blossom?
Beatitudes in a New Light
With that background, let's dive into the Lord's promise to His children: they shall "inherit the earth."
What does that mean?
Once our eyes are opened to Christ's abasement doctrine, the Beatitudes become even more special.
1. Blessed are the poor in spirit (descent): for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (ascent).
2. Blessed are they that mourn (descent): for they shall be comforted (ascent through the 1st and Second Comforters).
3. Blessed are the meek (descent): for they shall inherit the earth (isn't this interesting to find an inheritance, specifically, of "the earth" on our ascent?).
4. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness (descent): for they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost (what if this described reclaiming your Holy Ghost, i.e., sanctified spirit, on your ascent? Was this what Joseph Smith was alluding to when he said, "The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever" (D&C 121:46); could this be describing an eternal bond ("inseparably connected") in which our spiritual bodies always return to us? "Inseparable" not because we can't be parted during descent, but because we shall always be reunited?)
5. Blessed are the merciful (descent): for they shall receive mercy (there's always a reciprocity, or law of restoration, at the turning of the wheel; the hinge is mercy).
6. Blessed are the pure in heart (descent is where we are stripped of impurity, working out our salvation with fear and trembling): for they shall see God (I want to suggest that there are multiple layers of meaning in this; when we receive the countenance of Christ and look in the mirror, who do we see? God).
7. Blessed are the peacemakers (remember how Christ promised "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you" -- the work of God is to imbue the Creation with peace; to descend among the contentious, chaotic spirits of lower-estates): for they shall be called the Children of God (now we ascend to the adoption of sons and daughters into the Father's Family of the "El"s).
(Now we're going to come full-circle: remember where we started in #1? "Blessed are the poor in spirit who come unto me, for theirs is the KINGDOM OF HEAVEN").
8. Blessed are all they who are persecuted for my name's sake (we now descend bearing the name of God, which we received in No. 7): for theirs is the KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.
So we started and ended . . . in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Thus we see, the Beatitudes are a treatise on abasement.
Where are we going to learn about God's mysteries? Who will teach us? Are angels a reliable source of information?
And the lesser priesthood continued, which priesthood holdeth the key of the ministering of angels and the preparatory gospel.
Well, it appears angels are part of the "preparatory" gospel. What's that?
Which gospel is the gospel of repentance
Ah, that's what angels do. They call us to repentance!
and of baptism, and the remission of sins, and the law of carnal commandments
Yikes. I don't like the sound of those "carnal commandments." What are they?
which the Lord in his wrath caused to continue with the house of Aaron among the children of Israel.
"In his wrath" doesn't sound good. And all this is part of the keys of the ministering of angels?
Would it surprise you if I suggested that many angels are, in fact, bad examples? Angels just aren't the role models we need (that would be Jesus Christ).
For instance, angels are often not terrific examples of charity. Pop Quiz: Which is more important: (1) learning the mysteries of God or (2) loving our neighbor?
Though I speak with the tongue of angels and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and have not charity, I am nothing.
(1 Cor. 13:1-2).
How could Paul say that? Surely having "all knowledge" counts for something.
And angels clearly know a lot. Then . . . why are they still angels? Why haven't they progressed onwards towards godhood? What prevents them from ascending (or maybe we should be asking, "descending") the ladder?
Despite their knowledge, many angels plateau and are stuck in their current station. Why? Let's ask Joseph Smith:
The Key and power of endless life: ― Angels desire to look into it, but they have set up too many stakes.
(Joseph Smith, History, 1838-1856, vol. E-1, August 27, 1843).
That's . . . frightening. Joseph is indicating angels don't hold the key and power of endless lives because they've "set up stakes" ― what does that mean? They are unwilling to leave their comforts and the bubble they've created in order to progress beyond their current understanding. They are reluctant to set aside many of their cherished truths and thus can't make room for greater truths.
Which begs the question: what could possibly try the faith of an angel?
"Know Ye Not . . . "
The apostle Paul taught:
Know ye not that we shall judge angels?
(1 Cor. 6:3)
Huh? Does Paul mean angels aren't holier or more righteous than us? Perhaps we're all in the same boat ― we're spiritual beings with agency and some have more light than others, but we're all persons with personalities and preferences in the end.
Have you considered that the Father strives for equality in heaven as well as earth? To bring Zion from above to join with Zion here below in a great unity and equality that pierces the veil? We must become "one" with the angels of Enoch's City as well as with each other.
(Imagine if angels jockeyed for rank and status in heaven. Oh wait, that's what Satan did.)
So we share a common labor, whatever side of the veil we find ourselves on: whether just-men-and-women-made-perfect, or resurrected and exalted beings, or ministering angels of flaming fire (D&C 7:6) ― we're all laboring in Christ's name, declaring repentance and faith in Jesus.
Maybe that's why angels refer to themselves as our "fellow servants" (Revelation 22:9).
(And if we're going to judge them, maybe they're trying to get on our good side.)
Angels in the Outfield
If an angel took us out for drinks on Friday night and we began to discuss deep doctrine, is there a particular "mystery" we would want to ask them about? If we could ask them, who had been behind the veil, anything at all, what would it be?
Sitting across the table from the angel, what aspect of life-after-life or death-after-death would we focus on?
Eternity is a pretty big place; eternal lives is a pretty big subject.
Where to start?
("Oh, do you know Brother Uzael from the Cherry Hill Kolob 4th Ward? I went to primary school with his son five rounds ago.")
I want to make the point that while most of us assume talking to a ministering angel would be a good thing, is it always? Or is it possible angels can become a hinderance if we hold an unhealthy esteem for them? ("Follow-the-prophet" on steroids.)
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
(1 John 4:1)
Isn't that exhausting? Paul is teaching us to exercise discernment even (especially) in our conversations with angels!
It's a real risk, and the more adept we become at piercing the veil the more important discernment becomes.
Be [not] seduced by evil spirits, or doctrines of devils, or the commandments of men; for some are of men, and others of devils. Wherefore, beware lest ye are deceived.
So how do we judge whether it's a "good" angel? By the color of its hair? Its manner of dress? How about we discern if they speak the words of Christ? Does the angel carry Christ's spirit of charity?
Pure love is the key.
And that ye may not be deceived seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given. For they are given for the benefit of those who love me . . . that all may be benefited . . . and not for a sign that they may consume it upon their lusts.
Thus we see that learning the "mysteries" from angels may be helpful when it benefits others ("all may be benefited") and results in increased love for God and one another.
Gifts (and angels) that merely gratify our pride are useless.
Overworked and Underpaid
Despite what we may think, seeing an angel doesn't change our hearts. They aren't fairy godmothers with a magic wand that can replace our sinful natures with a godly one.
Worse, seeing an angel can deceive us (looking at you, Korihor).
To quote Nephi, who explained this to his brothers:
Ye have seen an angel, [so that must have been awesome] and he spake unto you; [cool! What did he say?] yea, ye have heard his voice from time to time; [Laman and Lemuel must have been so righteous to have these experiences!] and he hath spoken unto you in a still small voice, but ye were past feeling, that ye could not feel his words; wherefore, he has spoken unto you like unto the voice of thunder, which did cause the earth to shake as if it were to divide asunder. [what miracles, right?] And ye also know that by the power of his almighty word he can cause the earth that it shall pass away; yea, and ye know that by his word he can cause the rough places to be made smooth, and smooth places shall be broken up. O, then, why is it, that ye can be so hard in your hearts?
(1 Nephi 17:45-46)
You see, angels don't spend their time complimenting and congratulating righteous people; that's what the devil's angels do.
True messengers appear and declare the conditions of repentance to a fallen world. So we don't have to be "perfect" to be ministered to by an angel of God. Quite the opposite!
But remember: angels can't save us (though some serve as saviors on Mt. Zion).
I'd like to say (apologies in advance to any angels listening to this) that angels are not very impressive by Hollywood standards.
Case in point: if we met Moroni on our way to Walmart, he'd probably look like a hobo (for those of you have not read David Whitmer's account of running into the angel Moroni (who was incognito at the time) while traveling on the road to Fayette, New York one hot summer day with Joseph Smith, he described Moroni's sweaty appearance: he wore an unseasonably warm brown woolen suit and was "heavy set." Hey! It's like I'm looking in the mirror.)
Angels Are Messengers
Angels come in all shapes and sizes; they come in all kinds of dispositions and temperaments. There are:
Hugh Nibley said if an angel appeared to us, he'd stand there and just quote from the scriptures.
Why? Because that's an angel's job!
Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ.
(2 Nephi 32:3)
What is their message? What should we expect to hear from an angel who visits us?
And the office of their ministry is to call men unto repentance, and to fulfil and to do the work of the covenants of the Father, to prepare the way among the children of men, by declaring the word of Christ.
That, I believe, is the best job description I've ever seen.
The Good News
Knowing the administrative titles of exalted beings (while certainly fascinating) doesn't really affect our salvation. Faith in Christ does.
Distinguishing a Power from a Principality is not the essential thing: it is discerning whether the messenger (whether from heaven or earth) is speaking the words of Christ by the power of the Holy Ghost.
Otherwise, we're just enamored by a foreigner's accent that tickles our fancy ("Oo, he's a Norwegian? He sounds so sophisticated!").
Being Norwegian doesn't determine whether a person possesses the Testimony of Jesus, regardless of their rank (just ask Lucifer).
I've saved the best part for last. Now that we have a good perspective on angelology, I want to encourage us all to reach out to our friends; to commune with the general assembly and Church of the Firstborn.
In the heavens we have so many friends!
These are they who have come to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of Enoch, and of the Firstborn.
My prayer, like Joseph Smith's, is:
Help us by the power of thy Spirit, that we may mingle our voices with those bright, shining seraphs around thy throne.
The post exploded! Well, nothing so dramatic as "going viral" ─ but relative to the feedback I normally receive, it struck an unexpected chord.
Which surprised me, seeing as I was sitting at the airport chugging Dramamine before my flight; so anything worthwhile in it must be to the Lord's credit.
I wasn't planning on saying anything more on the subject for now; having introduced the principle of abasement, I was excited to return to our long, winding march towards Romans 14 (I can't wait!); so I thought the post was simply a one-off.
But here we are!
Ben commented, "I hope you can make this a series somehow." My reaction to his request was conflicted: I customarily try to avoid sensationalism (expounding on the topic of descent and ascension is bordering close to the shores of "deep doctrine" and the "mysteries" ─ and the further we delve risks awakening the Balrog).
You are all familiar with the admonition:
Remember that that which cometh from above is sacred, and must be spoken with care, and by constraint of the Spirit.
On the other hand, after reading Ben's comment, I found myself showering (yes, where strangely our spiritual senses become enlivened ─ I think Dove Moisturizing Body Wash for Sensitive Skin should be rebranded Dove: The Holy Ghost-Infused Bar for Cleansing Your Mind), when a flood of insight and intelligence came rushing into my mind.
I, the Lord, utter my voice, and it shall be obeyed.
Needless to say, I found myself dripping wet, sitting on my closet floor with a towel draped around my waist, typing into my phone as fast as I could, as many of the thoughts and ideas that had come, before they fled.
(Sorry for painting that image in your mind. Apply Dove.)
The Lord liked to embed His mysteries into parables. Why?
Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.
Why does the Lord conceal His mysteries from the wicked? Why does He "seal" them away?
For His children, however, He promised:
And to them will I reveal all mysteries, [what percentage is "all"?] yea, all the hidden mysteries [what percentage is "all"?] of my kingdom from days of old, and for ages to come, will I make known unto them the good pleasure of my will concerning all things [what percentage is "all"?] pertaining to my kingdom.
I think it is good to be wary ("wise as serpents") of people who seem to have "everything worked out." I have come across some pretty "weird" stuff. Now, that doesn't mean I reject it out-of-hand. I'll consider just about anything (this is how I try to remain open to receiving further light and truth).
But some of the color-coded, cosmological charts folks have created (no, I am not talking about the hypocephalus in Facsimile 2; that's black-and-white) give me pause; as if they had dissected the gospel and laid out its constituent parts on the table to create an elaborate concordance, trying to fashion One Great Unified Theory of Everything ─ that sort of thing gives me a spiritual charley horse.
Personally, I do not believe we have the capacity in our current state to comprehend all of God's mysteries (see, 3 Nephi 19:32-34); nevertheless, we are told to seek after them.
And if thou wilt inquire, thou shalt know mysteries which are great and marvelous; therefore thou shalt exercise thy gift, that thou mayest find out mysteries, [which mysteries? Where do we start? How do we know what's most important?] that (1) thou mayest bring many to the knowledge of the truth, yea, (2) convince them of the error of their ways.
Just to be clear: I believe in visions and visitations; I also believe in seers and revelators.
But I don't get too excited every time someone eats bad tuna fish and, after having been escorted through heaven (why are angels always acting like glorified tour guides for Carnival Cruise Lines?), they return to describe eternity in Kabbalistic tones.
I mean, however impressive it is to have seen the blueprints for the plumbing in the devil's chalet down in purgatory, does that help any of us repent? ("Well, Tim, that depends on the plumbing; do alligators emerge from the toilets?")
Do these visions of grandeur help others to seek the Lord with broken hearts and contrite spirits?
I often reflect on Mary's example, who demonstrated a certain sobriety when when she received the word of the Lord:
But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
So before we proceed, we need to gauge our motivation. Are we seeking to abase ourselves or to satisfy our curiosity?
Truth Is Here
As we begin our descent into the mysteries, I want to explain something about the Lord's truth. How does the Lord avoid casting His pearls before swine? How does He restrict access to those who are content in their unbelief?
Does He lock His truth away in a sealed chest on the top shelf, out of reach?
No, that's the genius of it! The truths we're seeking are in plain view, and were all along ─ but we weren't prepared to see them. Our eyes were not yet opened.
It makes perfect sense when we realize that, in order to entice us ("come unto me"), Christ's Spirit infuses the spiritual air we breathe with truth, around the clock, all around us. So if someone is sitting in their hotel room in Las Vegas at 1:34 a.m. having dark thoughts because they just lost their shirt at blackjack, they can reach out to the Lord as readily as the Prophet passing by the Holy of Holies.
The only limits are those we place upon ourselves, the horse-blinders we wear fashionably (what Nephi described as "scales" covering our eyes).
It must be part of the Lord's sense of humor to leave these things hidden in plain sight. The secret is not discovering something buried away, but to discover a new way of seeing what's right in front of us.
The secret? Not finding new truths, but finding a change of heart.
The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not; nevertheless, the day shall come when you shall comprehend even God, being quickened in him and by him.
Then shall ye know that ye have seen me, that I am, and that I am the true light that is in you, and that you are in me.
The mysteries are here in front of us ─ right there in the scriptures! But (there's a but) until the Spirit unlocks their meaning to us, we might as well be using our natural eyes to read braille.
Why? Because Truth is known only by the Spirit, through direct revelation. (See Clark Burt's recent treatment of this idea, which I found brilliant).
Here's the problem, though: the Holy Ghost is like the wind; it is evanescent; and like a scent carried upon the breeze, we may lose track of it if we do not follow it when we first recognize it.
This is how the Lord weeds out the merely-curious from the honest seeker. Things that tickle our fancy do not develop into steadfast faith; they do not produce repentance.
What does the Church Handbook say about selling concessions during Sacrament Meeting? Anything? (if it helps, I'd be willing to set up my hotdog cart in the Foyer and offer a 2-for-1 discount to anyone with "President" or "Elder" in their title.)
I mean, who can argue with the fact that Fast and Testimony Meeting would be more enjoyable if we had popcorn and Milk Duds while listening to our neighbors?
And before you accuse me of sacrilege, remember we already pass envelopes filled with money to the Bishopric on The Stand ─ so financial transactions are happening next to the Sacrament Table whether we like it or not (see Matt. 21:12-13).
What's more, don't forget we allow children to eat Cheerios and fruit snacks in Church; why not adults? So it isn't much of a stretch.
I kid you not, I sat behind a family in Sacrament Meeting a couple of weeks ago whose teenagers were munching on a bag of Doritos Cool Ranch. Crunch crunch.
Like our cousins, the Southern Baptists, who throw a good Sunday picnic, we used to have "Break the Fast" potlucks in the Cultural Hall. I think it's safe to say Mormons love to eat (I'm still waiting for those Jewish feasts to find their way into the restoration-of-all-things).
How often is service in the Church equated with taking a casserole to those in need? Through sharing food, we show others we care. I am grateful for all of the meals my family has received after my wife had a new baby. I like a good casserole as well as the next person (and once, accompanied by what I think was food poisoning, bless the Relief Society's hearts).
So I wanted to share with you The Parable of the Casserole.
The Parable of the Casserole
Sister Jones was humbled to be called as the Relief Society President in the Majestic Mountain Fourth Ward.
As an older woman of experience and good taste, she believed she had been chosen to impart her wisdom to the younger sisters in the ward.
It so happened that Sister Jones was gifted as a cook; alas, the rising generation had grown up on fast food and take-out. But Sister Jones believed she could help them learn to cook homemade meals and bake homemade bread, the way God intended.
After all, eating together as a family around the dinner table was an important part of the gospel, Sister Jones believed with all her heart. She sacrificed daily to prepare healthy food for her children from fresh ingredients. It was her way of showing how much she loved them.
And it came to pass, there was one particular "signature dish" Sister Jones loved baking. Over the years she had received countless compliments for her Calamari Casserole.
It was an old, well-worn recipe passed down from her great-grandmother and Sister Jones prized it as a great treasure. How better to honor her pioneer heritage than to share this dish with the other sisters?
Now, it was the tradition of the Majestic Mountain Fourth Ward on Sundays for the Relief Society to pass around a sign-up sheet for volunteers to take meals to families in the ward in times of sickness or need.
One of the first policy changes Sister Jones made was to do-away with the sign-up sheet. Everyone needed the blessings that came from taking a meal, and thus an orderly rotation was created in which each member was assigned to take casseroles.
The second change was this: Sister Jones insisted each volunteer learn to make her special Calamari Casserole so that every family would be treated equally by receiving the same food, regardless of who was assigned to take the meal.
The Correlated Casserole (as some called it) was not universally popular. "I don't like Calamari," some said; "I am allergic to seafood" and "What if they're vegetarian?"
Some sisters cynically commented that Sister Jones implemented the policy after Sister Alma received glowing feedback for taking a bucket of the Colonel's fried chicken to her last family.
The solution to the growing dissent was simple: leadership set more meetings and trainings to hammer-in the importance of making the same casserole for everyone. Wasn't Zion of "one heart, one mind" and one casserole?
Sister Jones did not begrudge her duty, spending many evenings away from her children in order to teach the sisters how to cook the casserole in the Church kitchen (which Physical Facilities made sure had a proper thermostat).
Weekly, the sisters rehearsed the recipe in reverent tones.
They followed the recipe's instructions to the letter (and if they didn't, Sister Jones would point out their unauthorized modifications and lovingly ask them to start again).
The members of Relief Society grew to love Sister Jones and they truly wanted to sustain her; over time, many of them mastered the Calamari Casserole. But still others struggled ─ no matter how they tried, their dishes just didn't turn out the way Sister Jones said they should.
Some of the sisters began to entertain doubt: why couldn't they take eggplant parmesan or lasagna, some asked (although those who voiced their complaints soon obtained a "reputation" for not following the Calamari).
Contention over Calamari
Not wanting to wound Sister Jones's feelings, but seeing how their comrades (who had objected to the whole business) were treated, some of the younger sisters began to surreptitiously alter the recipe, tailoring it to their individual tastes or the family's needs.
When Sister Jones learned that some of the households in the ward were receiving counterfeit casseroles, she cracked down during a 5th Sunday Lesson:
"Sisters, I am mortified. I love you dearly, and cannot tell you how hurt I am to learn some of you do not appreciate the great Calamari Casserole as much as I do (and my pioneer ancestors before me)."
"We do love you," one cried out, "But we want to be able to cook other kinds of meals, too."
"Well," said Sister Jones, "if you truly sustained me (whom God called), then you would humble yourselves in the kitchen and be obedient to my Great-Gram's recipe. All who speak out against it, or who do not follow the recipe with exact obedience, are unworthy."
Sister Jones Has a Vision
Deeply troubled in her spirit, Sister Jones prayed. She pled with the Lord to soften the hearts of the younger sisters. "Help them see!" she cried.
That night as she slept, she dreamt she was in her childhood kitchen baking the casserole. To her delight, her Great Gram appeared, wearing a tidy apron with her white hair pulled back as Sister Jones remembered it as a young girl.
They embraced and Sister Jones felt her heart suffused with love. "Here, Great Gram," she said, taking a slice of Calamari Casserole and offering it to her.
Great Gram accepted the plate of food and took a bite. Her mouth curled downward and she spit the food out in the trash. "That's disgusting!" she said, "Why did you put squid in it?"
"Because I was following your recipe!" Sister Jones wept. "Look!" She handed the recipe card to her Great Gram.
"Oh honey, this is not my handwriting," Great Gram said, shaking her head. "All of my recipes were written in Spanish, which I inherited from my grandmother who emigrated to America from Calama, Chile. Who told you this was mine?"
Sister Jones shrugged. "It's a family tradition. So you don't like Calamari Casserole, then?" Sister Jones said, feeling like her whole life was a lie.
That very night, Sister Jones died with a broken heart.
A New RS President
The Bishop called one of Sister Jones' counselors to succeed her.
The new president, Sister Encornet, carried on the tradition of the Calamari Casserole; over the next few years, the sisters found great meaning in the dish (while others never "got it").
Leadership was invariably chosen from the ranks of sisters who could cook the Calamari Casserole in a manner that would have made Sister Jones proud.
Obediently, the families of the Majestic Mountain Fourth Ward learned to respect the Calamari Casserole (while those who didn't like squid bit their tongues). The recipe found its way into the cookbooks of the sisters who would, one day, pass it along to their children.
Samuel the Lamanite:
Many of them as are brought to the knowledge of the truth and to know of the wicked and abominable traditions of their fathers, and are led to believe the holy scriptures, yea, the prophecies of the holy prophets, which are written, which leadeth them to faith on the Lord, and unto repentance, which faith and repentance bringeth a change of heart unto them.
"I leaned over to President Oaks and quietly asked, 'Is flattening your plastic water bottle a new recycling requirement of the cafeteria?' President Oaks responded, with a smile on his face, 'Well, Allen, you need to follow the prophet.'
"Brothers and sisters, unlike vintage comic books and classic cars, prophetic teachings do not become more valuable with age.... Follow the counsel of President Russell M. Nelson.... Trust the Lord's anointed.... Our seemingly small deviations, quiet neglect, or whispered criticisms in response to prophetic counsel may result in our only walking dangerously near the edge of the covenant path."
I'm at PDX (Portland International Airport) where my flight is delayed. After eating a triple-scoop of Tillamook ice cream I decided to plug in my laptop and do something productive with my sugar rush (man cannot live by Candy Crush alone).
So why not delve into the meaning of life, itself? No time like the present.
Don't be surprised I'm tackling something as momentous as the meaning of life in a business-casual bistro at the airport; I've written before how inspiration can come wherever we find ourselves, even the Costco Food Court.
I am not going to tease; at the end of this Post I will in fact share the meaning of life. No cliff-hangers, I promise. But to understand the final destination, we first need to experience the journey.
I am seated overlooking the Columbia River that flows toward the Pacific Ocean, where the legendary Columbia River Salmon Run happens each year. Here we will begin our search for the meaning of life.
I hope you brought a wet suit.
Chinook salmon are the largest of the Pacific salmon ─ hence their nickname "King Salmon." They can grow to five feet long and weigh over a hundred pounds.
Each year the salmon return from the ocean to the place they were born; they swim up the Columbia River to spawn.
It is incredible to see: the surface of the water teeming with life as thousands of chinook migrate inland.
The reason for the arduous journey against the current is the fish need fresh water to reproduce.
But I want to focus on the way the journey changes them ― literally! As they head upstream, the salmon transform from silvery blue to a deep pink.
When they finally reach the end of their journey, their lives culminate in a singular purpose: to reproduce. But swimming up the Columbia River drains their life away; most of them have no energy left for a return trip to the ocean.
After spawning, the salmon die.
Airports have a way of making us feel anonymous, creating a false sense of privacy in a public place.
Sitting here in the airport watching people flow past me, it is easy to feel lost among the throng of nameless humanity.
I've never felt fully alive in an airport. There's something about the way these terminals are "in-between places" with their comings and goings ─ waystations filled with entrances and exits; corridors for passing crowds, excited and exhausted.
You see, airports are transitionary; they are not destinations-in-themselves.
Just like earth-life.
We are neither here-nor-there; earth is a waystation fraught with hope and uncertainty, delays and canceled flights, and so many missed connections; but also joyous reunions with loved ones and the relief of being almost home.
Amidst the hustle and bustle, among the swirling sea of humanity, we find a curious mixture of those coming and those going.
Which ones are we?
Wilderness and Waystations
The wilderness was a waystation for Nephi. For eight years the Lord instructed him and prepared him for his journey across the great waters, teaching him about the condescension of God (1 Nephi 11).
It was while journeying on the Road to Damascus that Saul encountered Christ. In order to prepare Paul for his ministry, the Lord removed Paul's sight; in blindness he journeyed to Ananias.
Have you ever wondered why journeys are so formative? Why adventures so often transpire on the road?
It shouldn't surprise us to find Christ on the Road to Emmaus ─ not relaxing in His heavenly hot tub, but sweating along the Straight and Narrow Path, shoulder to shoulder with us, as a Good Samaritan.
As we are reminded by Luke: "Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way?" (Luke 24:32).
That's a good description of our lives: we find ourselves "by the way" here on earth. This is a place of comings-and-goings; a sojourn for weary pilgrims seeking the face of the Lord.
So what are we supposed to do during our journey? Why have we embarked on this path in the first place, leaving our previous estate?
Joy in the Journey
I have heard Sunday School teachers say the reason we came to earth was to gain a body.
But is that all? If so, we've got bodies ─ what's the point of the rest of it?
And if having a physical body was all we needed, wasn't there a simpler way for us to get a body-suit than this rigmarole?
Maybe the reason we're here on earth is to find happiness? Is that our true purpose?
After all, father Lehi taught us that "men are that they might have joy" (2 Nephi 2:25).
And aren't we told in Church that "happiness is the object and design of our existence?"
But wait a minute. We are beneficiaries of Christ's tears and sorrows; we are witnesses to His suffering and agony (Mosiah 15:10). If life were about happiness, why is everything on the 10 o'clock news so depressing?
We have to account for all of the pain and misery that gets in the way of our happiness. I mean, one-half of the population will contract cancer during their lifetimes. Happiness and chemotherapy aren't exactly bedfellows.
Going back to "men are that they might have joy," how do we reconcile Lehi's joyful mantra with these words by his son Jacob, describing the harsh reality we all face:
Our lives passed away like as it were unto us a dream, we being a lonesome and a solemn people, wanderers, cast out from [our previous estate], born in tribulation, in a wilderness, and hated of our brethren. . . wherefore, we did mourn out our days.
Sound about right?
Or is the purpose of life to gain knowledge? If so, this may create a problem: happiness and knowledge are often at odds (as Ernest Hemingway famously said, "Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.").
There's even an idiom that captures this folk-wisdom: "Ignorance is bliss."
But Joseph Smith taught, "A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge." (History of the Church, 5:588.)
Have you ever wondered how Heavenly Father could ever be happy when He has a perfect knowledge of all of the bad stuff going on with His children?
Jesus groaned within himself, and said: Father, I am troubled [really? this from the Man who said "Be ye not troubled"?] because of the wickedness of the people of the house of Israel.
(3 Nephi 17:14)
What do you think is the thing that is most troubling to the Lord? Breaking the Sabbath? Drinking coffee? Committing adultery? Well, I think we can infer from this verse that the "wickedness" of His people troubled him; not their individual sins, but their collective unwillingness to embrace their Messiah; He was troubled by their confidence in the lesser-law that prevented them from coming unto Him and being healed. I suspect the Lord is deeply troubled about us, too.
We often compare our earth-education to leaving home and "going away to college." But if so, then we are Freshmen rushing at the worst fraternity in history; there's way too much hazing.
So is the pursuit of wisdom our greatest goal? Should we follow in Solomon's footsteps?
Joseph Smith taught:
Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection.
And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.
I won't argue with that; I can't! The acquisition of knowledge is a good, eternal investment.
But is that all there is to it?
Now I am going to cut-to-the-chase. The purpose of life (in one word) is abasement.
If that seems like an odd statement, I'll try to explain. Joseph Smith described our eternal progression as climbing the steps of a ladder. "When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top." (History of the Church, 6:306–7.)
But that is only half of the story; what Joseph doesn't say is that in order to climb the ladder, you must also descend it.
"Eternal life . . . [is] going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation." (History, 1838–1856, volume E-1 (1 July 1843–30 April 1844), p. 1971, The Joseph Smith Papers)
Remember Jacob's Ladder? The thing everyone forgets in their haste to reach the top is that the ladder goes both ways; it is a two-way street. And in one of the great eternal paradoxes, the only way up is, in fact, by going down.
And Jacob dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God [watch] ascending AND descending on it.
Things will make more sense as you ponder this statement and let it sink in:
"Happiness is the path of ascent after descent. You must descend to a very low point, and prove faithful; this always occurs in steps of ever-increasing abasement followed by ever-increasing exaltation. Every step forward requires you descend below your previous lowest point." (Rob Smith, "Abasement and Ascension: Happiness and Sorrow," blog posted Monday, October 13, 2014.)
What does this have to do with the meaning of life?
I am going to try to lay this out as simply and as clearly as I can.
1. Saving knowledge (“intelligence”) is acquired by completing a descent/ascent cycle.
2. The descent phase is called "condescension" in scripture.
3. The ascent phase is called "exaltation" in scripture.
4. Here's the important part: the extent of our condescension will dictate the extent of our exaltation, which are always proportionate.
5. Christ is the great exemplar of this truth; He said: "The Son of Man hath descended below them all" (D&C 122:8).
6. It is difficult to comprehend the magnitude of Christ's condescension. "He that ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth" (D&C 88:6).
7. If we want to encounter Christ, chances are we will meet Him during our descent phase (which is ironic, because everyone expects to find Him by climbing up the ladder, when in fact you're more likely to see him in a soup kitchen at the bottom of it) (see Matt. 25:37-40).
8. What is condescension? This was such an important question the angel quizzed Nephi on it: "Knowest thou the condescension of God?" (1 Nephi 11:16). Why is it critical we understand the doctrine of Christ's condescension? How is it related to our progression?
9. Why must we "descend"? I mean, couldn't we be good little boys and girls and just take a direct flight to Kolob, straight-as-an-arrow, upwards forever and forever, to infinity and beyond? What strikes me is that the Lord (who was perfect) traveled to heaven via hell.
10. The signs set in the heavens typify the ascent/descent cycle (think of the sun and moon). Ancient Egyptians understood this concept better than we do. The sun god (Ra) descended from the sky as a ba and rose again (ascent). Jesus's resurrection was foreshadowed millennia in advance through the ascent/descent theology of Osiris.
11. So the literal meaning of life is to condescend (or to abase) ourselves.
The Meaning of Life
But why? Why is it so important to slum it? Why must we condescend to join the riff-raff at the bottom of the ladder?
The gods understood the cost when they said, "Let us go down."
And then the Lord said: Let us go down. And they went down at the beginning . . . that is the Gods.
What were the gods going down for? Why did they choose to leave their exaltation, laying aside their exalted crowns, to condescend?
Here's the whole point: they did it in order to gather others and bring them along with them on their ascent.
Our ascent is made possible by Christ's ascent; and His ascent is a consequence of lifting us up with Him. This is what it means to be a "Father" and "Mother" in heaven.
Christ descended to find sons and daughters whom He could adopt into His family and thereby draw them up the ladder as the jewels in His crown.
Would it surprise you if Jesus framed His entire "gospel" in this way?
This is the gospel which I have given unto you-- that I came into the world [descent] to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me. [why was He sent?]
And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up [ascent] upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men [helping us ascend the ladder] unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father.
(3 Nephi 27:13-14)
Abasement means we stand arm-in-arm with those who sin and suffer and are sick; to minister to the untouchables and lepers; to become a member of a fallen community in order to gain their trust so they will take hold of our hand, that we might pull them up the ladder with us.
All of this Christ said when He taught, "Whosoever will lose his life (descend) for my sake shall find it (ascend)" (Matt. 16:25).
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life [descent] for his friends
When I hear this verse quoted at the funeral of a servicemember who lost their life in battle, I appreciate the sentiment.
But these words hold a deeper meaning. The Lord is not just talking about "dying" for those we love.
He is talking about the Noble-and-Great Ones (referred to as "the Gods" in the Book of Abraham) who willingly "laid down" their exaltation, setting it aside, to descend the ladder that we might catch a piggy-back as they ascend back up.
Would you be willing to step away from a lush retirement on the white sands of Fiji to serve a humanitarian mission in the mosquito-infested Congo?
"We will go down" (Abraham 3:24).
Love and Happiness
Sorry to state the obvious, but "abasement" doesn’t feel good.
Condescension is an act of love, not of happiness.
But happiness is found in reaching and connecting with those in the pit and helping them ascend.
I like how Rob Smith summarized this wonderful truth:
"Happiness is not the absence of sorrow, but the accumulation of knowledge learned through sorrow incurred through righteous intercession on others' behalf."
Isn't this what Isaiah wrote about Christ?
He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. . . . Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.
Notice the descent-language; but wait! What happens when Christ hits rock-bottom? What is the centerpiece of this psalm, when Christ goes down the ladder to the very bottom, making his soul an offering for sin?
He shall see his seed.
Did you see it? Where did the Lord find His family? He found His "seed" in the most unlikely of places!
Here He makes sons and daughters out of us. This gives him "pleasure" (Isaiah 53:10).
Then, in true chiastic form, Isaiah gives us ascent-language to describe the Lord pulling us up with Him during His ascent:
Why all the positive feedback? Well, it comes after Christ "poured out his soul unto death" (v. 12) to be numbered with us.
Think about how ridiculous that must appear to glory-hogs like Lucifer and his ilk, seeing Christ dressed-down to be with us, as if He were one of the transgressors!
But it was only in doing so (here's the punch) that Jesus was able to "make intercession" (v. 12) for us.
Implications of a Gospel of Condescension
The real-world implications of Christ's gospel are staggering. The things that please God look very different from an abased posture. It is the difference between Christ's perspective and Simon's (see Luke 7).
Here are some that come to mind:
(1) Those who think they can ascend the ladder based on their ritual-righteousness ("temple worthiness"), like the Pharisees, are mistaken. We don't ascend because we are "good"; we ascend because we abase ourselves beneath others in order to hoist them higher.
(2) The Church's hierarchy is actually calculated to mitigate condescension. Instead of becoming "the least" and servants, a prestigious priesthood elevates men to high offices. This is the opposite of abasement.
(3) Repentance cannot be preached top-down; Christ showed it must be down-up. When repentance is preached from the top, it sounds accusatory and prideful; but when we preach repentance from an abased position, our message is reinforced by works of love rather than hypocritical words of righteousness (see James 2). It's the difference between tossing coins into a beggar's cup (top-down) vs. lifting the beggar into our arms and carrying them to Taco Bell and sharing a burrito together, getting to know them by name and beginning a life-long friendship.
But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.
And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.
Have I committed an offence in abasing myself that ye might be exalted, because I have preached to you the gospel?