It may seem strange to begin this Series on God's love talking about wrath and judgment.
But there's a good reason for it.
How can we approach God with unshaken faith if we have an unhealthy idea of who He is and of our relationship with him?
One of the things, I think, preventing us from experiencing God's love are the old sectarian notions we've inherited (such as those passed down from Augustine, whose teachings have tainted generations of believers with the idea of God's impassibility, meaning He can't be moved or affected by us; ergo, He is "without parts and passion").
On the other end of the spectrum, we have the evangelical teachings of predestination and irresistible grace that create an incomprehensible and arbitrary God.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we've got to accept the fact that we have inherited some really messy theology, and it is messing up our relationship with God.
Not My Problem?
Some might be thinking, "But Tim, buddy, I'm not Catholic or Calvinist. Why does this affect me?"
Well, even in the LDS tradition we bear the seeds of the Great Apostasy and the Reformation, the way a child carries the recessive genes of their parents.
Which is odd, I know, because if anyone should have a good perspective on God, you'd think it would be a Church whose founding father saw and spoke to Him, right?
The Church even has a correlation department ("Ministry of Truth") whose job it is to beat the rug until diversity is expunged from our ranks.
In the LDS Church, depending on which of God's attributes we focus on and who is talking, God runs the risk of becoming a caricature of milk-toast-tender-mercies or chiseled-chin-justice as implacable as granite.
It's like someone sending you a message on Facebook saying your spouse is not the person you think he is; that in fact, your spouse is a bloodthirsty, abusive offender.
And then those awful rumors start appearing in the press. Law enforcement (by which I mean, religious authorities) get involved. Throughout the investigation we aren't sure who to believe anymore.
We wonder, in the face of so much innuendo, did we ever really know our Sweetheart? How can so many respected community members be wrong?
And so we start to doubt.
How can we know what God is like when churches have such incompatible views on his nature?
Ignore what the Churches are saying.
If we want to know God, we're going to have to get to know him personally.
Dress Down, Not Up Another reason we're starting the Series this way is because of something the Lord said in 1831 to the members of the Church.
And He wasn't talking to mature, seasoned leaders. He was speaking to a group of young, inexperienced, knuckleheads:
Verily I say unto you that it is your privilege, and a promise I give unto you that have been ordained unto this ministry, that inasmuch as you strip yourselves from jealousies and fears, and humble yourselves before me, for ye are not sufficiently humble, the veil shall be rent and you shall see me and know that I am-- not with the carnal neither natural mind, but with the spiritual. (D&C 67:10)
That's a curious phrase: "strip yourselves."
What does that mean? Does the Lord really want us running around like members of a nudist colony?
Well, yes, I think he does. I think God would rather we be spiritual nudists than to be covered in the cloth of corrupt creeds and abominations.
(This reminds me of a time I streaked through the baptistry of the Provo Temple, but we'll have to save that story for another day.)
To "strip" is to remove our clothes and jewelry and accessories; to bare our souls without makeup or pretense, standing before God in our Spiritual Birthday Suit.
There are no fig leaves big enough to cover our sinfulness.
It is no use "dressing up" (by which I mean, playing dress-up) in order to appear righteous. We'll have to remove our robes of pomp and pride.
And we approach God naked as a babe in her mother's arms, disrobed of self-deception and hypocrisy, in all of its chubby glory.
But instead of being embarrassed and blushing, we smile up at the Lord's beaming face, stripped but confident.
How in the world can we be confident with our fat rolls showing?
Confidence in Christ
Maybe the secret to spiritual confidence comes not from admiring our own bodies, but Christ's.
Rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in [your] flesh.
As odd as it sounds, the more we strip off, the greater our confidence becomes.
And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us.
(1 John 5:14)
To bring this back to love before it gets any weirder, remember what the Lord told Joseph about confidence when he was in Liberty Jail?
Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men and . . .then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God.
Love equals confidence.
Fear is the Mind Killer
There are several interesting things in that verse besides "strip yourselves."
1. It is our "privilege" (!) to know God. A privilege is something we have a right to. Jesus is saying we are entitled (in the good way, not the spoiled way) to know Him. He wants us to come boldly before Him. Don't be shy!
2. It is His "promise" to us. The Lord always keeps his promises.
3. But as long as we are fearful and jealous, the veil will remain dark and thick over our eyes.
4. There is no fear in love. In other words, the best way to overcome our fears is to love.
5. The effect of love upon the veil is astounding. The Lord rends the veil in and through his pure love.
6.We come to know the Lord not through natural means (book-learning or logical reasoning) but through our spiritual mind.
7. Beware. The carnal mind seeks the Lord through signs.
We're going to seek the Lord through humility and love.
When you apply for homeowners insurance you're asked if you own a trampoline.
Tramps, as we all know, are liability pits. Everybody gets injured at some point.
When I was 13 I was playing at my friend's house in Pleasant Grove, Utah, goofing around on his tramp.
At one point he bounced me off the trampoline and I fell into his mother's wooden planter box.
I broke my wrist.
The doctors put a cast over my wrist and forearm and for the next 3 weeks of summer I itched and sweated and couldn't wait to get that cast off.
When my friend (yes, same one) invited me to a water park, I decided to take matters into my own hands and secretly used my mothers sewing scissors (an unforgivable sin) and cut off the cast.
The water park was great fun. Coming home to mother, not so much.
A Lamb Without Blemish
There are 206 bones in the human body.
Apparently Jesus never broke any bones so he could fulfil his role as the sacrificial lamb of God.
(I guess they hadn't invented trampolines yet.)
For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken.
Though Christ never broke a bone, he certainly broke his heart.
Did you know the human heart is a single muscle?
We all have just one cardiac muscle.
Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him.
But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs:
But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.
I am no doctor, but I have heard there is watery fluid surrounding our heart and lungs, which gushed out of the Savior's body when they pierced his side.
And while I am no doctor, I know that among those 206 unbroken bones in our Lord hanging upon the cross, there was not a single condemnation-bone in his whole body.
Jesus Is Not Our Judge
Jesus did not condescend to earth in the black robes of a judge.
I've never seen a picture of the Nativity where baby Jesus is holding a gavel giving Joseph a stern look.
There is no condemnation in the pure love of Christ.
Let me repeat that: there is no condemnation in the pure love of Christ.
And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.
So we're good, right?
No, we're not good. We've got to consider the next verse:
He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him . . .
Who, then? Who's our judge if not God?
The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.
Well (*scratching head*). How are words going to judge us?
Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me?
Our Own Harshest Critic
Now, in terms of corporate judgment, the Twelve Apostles have that under control. Jesus assigned them to judge the tribes of Israel.
But in terms of personal judgment, if Jesus is not our judge, then who is?
Well, who better to judge you than . . .
How would you rate yourself against the standard of Christ's word? Be honest.
Alma said something oddly cryptic:
These are they that are redeemed of the Lord; yea, these are they that are taken out, [taken out of what?] that are delivered from that endless night [what does this mean?] of darkness; and thus they stand or fall; for behold, they are their own judges, whether to do good or do evil.
That verse has several layers which we're not going to peel away right now.
I just want to focus on the part that says "they are their own judges."
Ouch. I never liked self-grading.
Picture yourself dressed up for your big day.
Are you attending a wedding or a funeral?
Which will Judgment Day be like for you?
Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him-- [oh boy, this is gonna be a tough case]
Saying: Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, [that's not us, clearly] in whom thou wast well pleased; [still not us] behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified; [nope, still not us]
Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, [that's us! Look mom, I'm on TV!] that they may come unto me and have everlasting life.
Jesus is our “advocate,” which means that before the tribunal He is our defense attorney.
Seeing as how we are all guilty, it is a tough job.
And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
(1 John 2:1)
As our court-appointed public Defender, Jesus stands beside us when we are arraigned at Judgment Day.
You'll notice our legal defense is thinking-outside-the-box: “Your Honor, if it please the Court, let the accused go free because I am innocent.”
Huh? What just happened? I thought judgment was about me.
How utterly unexpected that Jesus makes our trial about Him and his righteousness!
Ironically, there is no discussion of our guilt (it is presumed) and there is no evidence presented of our good works (you may discard Exhibits ‘A’ thru ‘Z’ you have been keeping in your back pocket).
We are pardoned in Christ’s name, because of His good works.
In all their afflictions he was afflicted. And the angel of his presence saved them; and in his love, and in his pity, he redeemed them.
Two years ago I started Owl of the Desert to share my poetry, and soon after I began this Blog.
To be honest, few people seem to get my poetry, but I am going to go out on a limb and say that my poems are plain to anyone who has the spirit of prophecy.
Take that, Isaiah!
Now, after two years of warming up, the time has come to begin a Series on a topic we all care very, very much about:
The love of God.
Please secure your belongings for take off!
Where's the Love?
I hear people on Facebook say they can't believe in God because, after all, what sort of horrible parent would treat their children so poorly?
And even if God were real, they say, they still would not worship him because he's a bully and unworthy of our admiration.
Exhibit A: The Flood.
Is it surprising that some people compare God to Hitler, as if genocide were a main feature of his gospel?
Well, before we get too judge-y, let's pause and ask ourselves why they think this way.
Is the problem we've been taught God is something he is not?
Can we really blame them?
I think these people are not really talking about God but his caricature.
And I think we can all acknowledge that, as believers, we have some explaining to do.
Exhibit B: The Crusades.
Who is God, Really?
I want to share three quotes to set up the question, "Who is God, really?"
1. C.S. Lewis 2. Lectures on Faith 3. Epistle of 1 John
1. Brother C.S. Lewis
"As long as a man is thinking of God as an examiner who has set him a sort of paper to do, or as the opposite party in a sort of bargain — as long as he is thinking of claims and counter-claims between himself and God — he is not yet in the right relation to Him. He is misunderstanding what he is and what God is."
(C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001, 145.)
2. Lectures on Faith, Lecture 3
"Let us here observe, that three things are necessary, in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation.
"First, The idea that he actually exists.
"Secondly, A correct idea of his character, perfections and attributes.
"Thirdly, An actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing, is according to his will."
3. 1 John 4:7-8
Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
I think it is interesting that this scripture tells us the way we "know" God is through the lens of love.
But if God is love, then why does he seem so mean in the Old Testament?
"Don't Smite Me!"
Sometimes I encounter verses in the scriptures which confound me, leaving me with the impression God is vengeful and in the business of punishing sinners.
Like Corianton, I struggle to understand the justice of God in the punishment of the sinner.
As an example, the Lord told Martin Harris in D&C 19:15-18:
Repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth
I've often wondered, how could the loving God I know and adore say something like that?
Those are not feel-good words, so how do they fit in the gospel message?
Why do prophets use words like smite and rod and wrath when discussing God's justice?
After all, an abusive parent doesn't win Father-of-the-Year.
I think things will make more sense if we can figure out what the Lord means when he says he will smite us by the "rod of my mouth."
- Is that the iron rod?
- Is it the word of God?
- Is it a good tongue lashing?
- Is it the lake of fire and brimstone that burns our souls with regret and grief, knowing we have rejected the Spirit of the Lord?
Perhaps John the beloved can help here. He explained in Revelation 19:15:
And out of his mouth proceedeth the word of God, and with it he will smite the nations; and he will rule them with the word of his mouth; and he treadeth the winepress in the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.
Okay, so maybe it's not God, but his word that smites?
(Is that why He compares His word to "a two-edged sword?")
Hmmm. How do words "smite?" In what way do words "rule?"
As we explore these questions, I want to suggest that God does not punish us: he doesn't need to because we're plenty good at punishing ourselves.
The Grapes of Wrath
What about God's "wrath?"
There's no way around this one. How are we to reconcile God's anger with his love?
Well, remember what John said?
He treadeth the winepress in the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.
What does a winepress have to do with wrath? (Yes, that winepress ― "the place of the press," Gethsemane, where he bled from every pore to spare us from suffering.)
Ask yourself: WHO is the recipient of all of the winepress's wrath?
Not us. Looking at it this way, God is not the source of wrath but our avatar who shoulders it in our stead (if we repent).
The grapes of wrath are something Christ drinks ― He, God Himself (!) swallowing the very last bitter dregs so we don't have to.
For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might NOT suffer if they would repent.
But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;
Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed from every pore.
Well that's interesting. According to this, God doesn't want us to suffer.
"God, are you there? It's me, Margaret"
Do you know someone who makes suffering a way of life?
Isn't it alarming how depressed we all are (me included, never-you-mind) when the Bridegroom is feasting and making merry, microbrewing wine and having a good time with his friends?
In the scriptures we hear so much about the joy of the saints. "Men are that they might have joy," right? That sounds nice.
Instead, attending Sunday School may make us believe that "men are that they might have suffering."
And so is it any wonder atheists do not believe in a God that, like a mad scientist treating us as His lab rats, tests his children to help them "grow," hurling those that don't make-the-grade into a hell-pit of lava and brimstone for eternity?
No thanks. I don't want to be God's experiment!
I want to be his child. I want to live in a world where "children shall grow up without sin unto salvation" (D&C 45:58) and where "there shall be no sorrow because there is no death" (D&C 101:29).
And so in this Series, God is Love, we're going to try to unmask a righteous, loving Heavenly Father . . .
. . . and if you're up for it, see what all the hubbub is about "the pure love of Christ."
I used to think that "outer darkness" was someplace God sent the sons of perdition.
Do you remember seminary teachers and Sunday School teachers drawing on the chalkboard the "Plan of Salvation," depicting a sun, a moon, and a star as the kingdoms of glory ― and, there at the very bottom, they wrote "Outer Darkness" for those who do not inherit a glory.
I kid you not, I even heard a teacher joke once that sons of perdition go to "O.D." (outer darkness) because they "O.D.'d" (over dosed) on wickedness.
Well, how is it possible that all of my teachers were wrong?
Because Outer Darkness is NOT where the sons of perdition go.
Lost in Translation
The reason I am bringing up outer darkness is to illustrate this point:
Sometimes we are taught things (yes, even in Church) that are not in accord with the word of God.
I mean, I am on my guard with my hackles up when I study Sigmund Freud or read CNN. My discernment-radar is on high-alert.
But in Church? I let my guard down. I assume I am going to hear the word of God. That Church is, or ought to be, a "safe place."
Well, maybe we need our discernment-radar even (especially) in Church.
For our purposes, let's colloquially call these things we're taught (that are not strictly correct) "traditions."
Lost in Traditions
The "tradition" of calling the place into which sons of perdition are cast "outer darkness" is forgivable.
After all, someone at some point took a scriptural term and sloppily misapplied it, and then it gained traction in our modern parlance. But I am sure their intentions were innocent (just like the monks in the middle ages, right?).
I've done much worse.
But our job is to find out what the scriptures actually say. That's one way we show respect for Him who is the Word.
The phrase "outer darkness" is used in the standard works only 6 times:
Bible: 3 times Book of Mormon: 1 time Doctrine and Covenants: 2 times Pearl of Great Price: 0 times
Jesus gets credit for the heaviest usage of the term (surprise!). All three "outer darknesses" in the Bible were uttered by the Savior.
The first time we encounter outer darkness is when a Roman Centurion approached Jesus and asked him to heal his servant. Jesus comments that this pagan's faith was greater than Israel's, throwing a monkey wrench into the Jewish notion of lineage-superiority.
If a pagan could be saved in Christ, what profit was there in being a child of Abraham?
Jesus turned everything on its head and says that we all can be children of Abraham.
When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.
And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.
But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Notice who Jesus says goes into outer darkness? Not sons of perdition, but "the children of the kingdom" who do not have faith in Him.
Many Are Called, But Few Are Chosen
Guess what? We bump into outer darkness next in the parable Jesus taught about "many are called, but few are chosen."
The context is fascinating, and a little perplexing to find our old friend, outer darkness, in this parable of the wedding feast where the Savior starkly juxtaposes the light and happiness of a wedding celebration with the suffering of outer darkness. Yikes!
A king sends his servants to invite his friends to a wedding feast for his favored son. The messengers call the guests to come to the party, but everybody has an excuse not to come. They're too busy to be bothered.
And to make things worse, some of the servants are slain by the people they were inviting to the feast (maybe this is where we get the saying, "Don't kill the messenger").
It reminds me of when Samuel the Lamanite told the Nephites how their fathers of old killed the prophets, which offended the Nephites who-would-never-ever-in-a-million-years-slay-the-prophets-of-God as they launched arrows at Samuel.
Anyway, the king is furious. He's been stood up and his faithful servants have been slain, and his invited guests have refused to honor his son.
So the king cancels the black-tie affair and decides instead to have a feast with the poor, destitute and deplorable ― both "good and bad" ― to furnish his party with guests.
And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment:
And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless.
Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
For many are called, but few are chosen.
Of course this poor fellow was not a son of perdition ― far from it. He was a hungry, homeless man had who refused the master's garment, showing a disregard for his host.
And look at this: twice now we've been told that outer darkness is accompanied by weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Lost in Talents
The final time Jesus used the term outer darkness was in his parable of the talents.
A man gave his three servants some money. The first two guys invested the money and made a profit for their master.
But the third servant buried his talent in the dirt, hiding his Lord's money.
So when the master returns from his trip, he congratulates the first two, saying, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things" (Matthew 25:21).
But then the reckoning comes for the poor fellow who had buried his money, who pleads for mercy:
I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth.
The master replies:
Thou wicked and slothful servant. . . Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.
For unto every one that hath shall be given. . . but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.
And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Seeing a theme yet? The poor guy was a servant to the Master, not a son of perdition. And why does the master take from the poor guy and give to those who already have? That seems like a regressive policy, right?
Finally, why is there is so much weeping and gnashing?
Alma Takes the Stand
Me: Please state your name for the record.
Alma: Alma. Sometimes called 'Alma the Younger.'
Me: Alma, sir, have you been taught by angels?
Alma: I have.
Me: And did these divine messengers teach you anything about the spirit world?
Alma: I don't know what you mean by 'spirit world,' but yes, I inquired diligently of the Lord to know what becometh of the souls of men between death and resurrection.
Me: Can you tell the court what befalls the spirits of righteous men and women after they die?
Alma: Yes, I can. The spirits of the righteous are received into a state of happiness.
Me: And what is this condition, or state of happiness, called?
Alma: It is called paradise.
Me: Can you describe what paradise is like?
Alma: Paradise is a state of rest, a state of peace, where they rest from their labors and from all care and sorrow.
Me: That sounds wonderful. And what happens to the spirits of the wicked when they die?
Alma: Well, I prefer not to speak about that.
Me: Why is that?
Alma: Because it pains my soul to describe their suffering.
Me: Even so, this is important. Please proceed.
Alma: The spirits of the wicked, who are evil ―
Me: [Interrupting] Excuse me. It's important to maintain an accurate record. How do you define "evil?"
Alma: Evil means they have no part nor portion of the Spirit of the Lord, having chosen evil works rather than good.
Me: And what happens to those spirits?
Alma: Well, it is terrible. They are possessed ― their house is possessed by ― the spirit of the devil.
Me: And where do these spirits go? Do they go to paradise, too, awaiting the resurrection?
Alma: No. They are cast into outer darkness.
Me: What is outer darkness?
Alma: It is a condition of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth where our spirits are led captive by the will of the devil.
Me: And so outer darkness, as you call it, is the same as . . . spirit prison? A lake of fire and brimstone?
Alma: Again, I don't know what you mean by 'spirit prison.' Outer darkness, though, is where the spirits of the wicked suffer while awaiting the resurrection. They remain in darkness, in a state of awful, fearful looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them, and they remain in this state until the time of resurrection.
Me: And do these spirits leave outer darkness when they're resurrected to a kingdom of glory? Does outer darkness have an exit as well as an entrance?
Alma: That's my understanding.
Me: Thank you.
So What is Outer Darkness?
What have we learned from the word of God?
1. Outer darkness is hell.
2. Hell is awful.
3. Hell is being captive to the will of the devil.
4. Hell is temporary.
5. Hell is something Jesus rescues us from.
6. The conditions of hell that exist in spirit prison also exist now in hell-here-on-earth, where we find wailing, weeping and gnashing of teeth in abundance.
7. The sufferings we experience in spirit-prison-hell, though, is magnified because we no longer have a physical body, which is a shield and protection against the spirit of the devil.
8. In the resurrection, all shall be redeemed from outer darkness except for the sons of perdition (D&C 76:37-38), who go to a place with no name.
It is fitting that we have no name for the place sons of perdition are banished to.
Wherefore, God saves all except them― they shall go away into everlasting punishment, which is endless punishment, which is eternal punishment, to reign with the devil and his angels in eternity, where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched, which is their torment.
In this Series, Give Heed to This Compass, we're talking about something near and dear to my heart: following the light of Christ into the presence of the Lord, and piercing the veil so we can converse with Him who is the Keeper of the Gate, like the Brother of Jared did, and receive the words of eternal life in this world (what the scriptures call the "testimony of Jesus").
Wow. That's A LOT, I know.
But this is going to be super simple.
Forget about all the commandments and covenants and everything else for just a sec. (Don't worry, they'll still be here when we get back.)
But I want to start with a clean slate. Pretend we're little, ignorant children. (Aren't we?) Because here's the problem: we've been weaned on the milk of religion, and religion always complicates our relationship with God.
Whereas, the gospel of Jesus Christ couldn't be simpler: God is our father and invites us to "be one" with him, asking us to love him and one another.
God told Enoch:
And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they: (1) should love one another, and (2) that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection.
Religion, now . . . oh boy!
Religion goes to great lengths to build hedges around the law, cluttering our faith with errata ― with incense and shewbread and priests and performances and phylacteries and handbooks and reports and attendance and assignments and titles and trainings and handcarts and tithing and . . . the list is endless.
I mean, how are we supposed to know God when he is buried underneath so much "religion?"
Our Father all but disappears under the weight of the churches we've built up.
Keeping Up with the Joneses
Religion loves lists more than it loves God, attending to all the busy work while leaving the weightier matters undone.
Now, don't get me wrong: I am all for baking casseroles and helping Sister Jones clean out her gutters. After all, pure religion (that is, the religion that most closely resembles the gospel) is to visit the fatherless and care for the widow . . .
. . . and to keep yourself unspotted from the world.
Ah, that last part is where religion really flexes its muscles, right? Religion to the rescue, giving us lists of rights and wrongs, do's and dont's, yes's and no's.
Well, in the end, who needs God when we've got such great Lists? After all, can't the List tell us everything we need to know in order to get into heaven?
Unfortunately, we all discover at some point in our lives (and, as Paul pointed out 2000 years ago) that we all fall short and can't do everything on the List; in the eyes of religion (in other words, the "law" as Paul called it), we're all damned.
But then Christ comes along and provides a more excellent way, telling us that we can know God (!) ― the only true and living God (!!) through Jesus Christ, whom He sent (!!!) ― but not through the List.
Lecture At the Veil
Do you remember what happened to the veil in the temple when Jesus died on the cross?
As what I can only presume to be one of the greatest and astounding indictments God ever made (without words, no less, which is fitting since they had just killed the Word of God), God destroyed the veil.
Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.
And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom.
The "top to the bottom" reminds me of a hierarchy. Was God symbolizing that we no longer needed a religious hierarchy when we had a new High Priest (Christ) to make intercession for us?
In Hebrews 10:19-21, we are told some very interesting things about the veil:
Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holy of holies . . .
This was how we "used" to approach God under the Law of Moses. Well, not you and me, of course. We had to rely on mortal mediators. It was the High Priest of the Levitical priesthood who entered into the Holy of Holies once a year on the Day of Atonement, where the cherubim and the ark of the covenant represented the presence of God, where the priest sought forgiveness for the sins of the people.
And notice that we are told to enter into God's presence "boldly." Not proudly, neither timidly, but with the confidence that comes from loving Him.
But the part I love best is that we are all supposed to cram into the Holy of Holies (make space!) instead of pawning this off on our leaders, like the Israelites did with Moses, telling him, "Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die" (Exodus 20:19).
by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way,
Then Jesus came and changed everything. "We're not doing things that way anymore. I am going to show you a 'new and living way,' a new covenant," he says. Instead of a curtain that was red and blue and purple (yes, those really were the colors of the veil), we have the red and blue and purple blood that runs in the veins of Christ. In other words, we replaced Veils with Veins.
which Christ hath consecrated for us,
Remember what it means to "consecrate?" It means to be set apart, to be made holy. Here, Christ consecrates us in His sacral blood. I mean, it says it right there "for us!"
through the veil, that is to say, his flesh
Okay, this is amazing. The veil the Jewish high priest had to part and cross through in order to enter into God's presence, is now defined as Christ's body ("his flesh"). Imagine what this symbolizes. Rebirth, being born again? We come forth in Christ's mother-blood, through "his flesh" ― just like when we were born. It's beautiful!
Having an high priest over the house of God.
Let me make something as plain as I possibly can:
1. There is only one Gate (repent and be baptized) (2 Nephi 31:17).
2. There is only one Great Commandment to the ends of the earth (repent and be baptized) (3 Nephi 27:20).
3.There is only one Great Commission (repent and be baptized) (Matthew 28:19).
4.And there is only one Gate-keeper (Christ) (2 Nephi 9:41).
See? All things lead to a single choke-point, like an hourglass, which is baptism.
After we are baptized, then things expand outward again as the Spirit directs us individually.
If God rent the veil of the temple in order to invite us directly into His presence, why are we trying to patch it back together?
One of the best lessons I ever learned was because of President James E. Faust.
At one point in my life I wanted ― I needed ― divine answers to a specific problem I faced.
It was March 1, 2005. I was about to graduate from law school, a stripling lawyer (I mean, warrior) just 25 years old.
Imagine my excitement when I heard that President James E. Faust of the 1st Presidency was going to give a devotional address to the students at BYU.
At the time, I was looking forward to becoming a freshly-minted lawyer, studying for the Bar exam, and I had always admired President Faust ― feeling a connection with him the way tradesmen do (both being men-of-the-law).
In him I saw an example of someone I wanted to be like, an attorney who had remained faithful. What were the chances?!
His biography, In the Strength of the Lord: The Life and Teachings of James E. Faust, was an inspiration to me. I went through a period of my life when I read all of the biographies I could find on the Brethren: I found their lived experiences more instructive then their preaching.
This was my chance, I thought, to hear from one of the Lord's anointed; surely, I believed, if I prepared myself spiritually, I could receive the answers I desperately needed through the Lord's mouthpiece.
I prayed and fasted and went to the devotional, hoping the Lord would speak to me through the words spoken by President Faust.
I hung on every word, read his every breath, listened during every pause, as President Faust delivered his speech, "Where is the Church."
He said, "But the keys of the kingdom rest with the president of the Church. It is that authority that activates and governs all Church activities. Without priesthood keys and authority, there would be no church."
It was a good talk, I guess. It was a good reminder of some good principles. It quoted some good scriptures.
And yet . . . .
I was disappointed.
Now, would it surprise you that President Faust gave the identical talk 15 years earlier, in 1989?
Well, I understand that truth is eternal and unchanging, and what is said to one generation can certainly be repeated to another.
But on March 1, 2005 I had come with open hands, waiting to be taught light and truth from my priesthood leader, and was left wanting.
That day I received a recycled message of general applicability.
I suppose you could argue the fault was mine: that I was unreceptive or hard-hearted or failed to be in tune with the Spirit, or something.
But please, just this once, trust me when I say that I had done everything I knew how to do in order to be worthy and ready to be taught by the Lord and one of His prophets.
But the words that day felt hollow and empty.
It hurt. I hurt. I locked myself in my bedroom and cried, pouring out my grief to the Lord, heartbroken and hungering.
I mean, if I couldn't get answers I so desperately needed from those the Lord had given keys to unlock the mysteries of the kingdom, then where else could I get them?
I Dreamed a Dream
Shortly after President Faust's devotional, I had a dream.
In my dream I entered a room, like a conference room, where the Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency were gathered.
I recognized immediately that I had interrupted their meeting. They were not expecting me.
They stared at me, waiting, without a word, as if implying, "What are you doing here?"
This was my chance, I thought! I can finally ask them my questions and get personalized answers that I have waited so long for.
As I opened my mouth, I found my tongue was bound.
I could not speak.
Really, I can't make this stuff up. Oh no, I thought desperately, fearing I would miss my chance, and realizing I looked like a fool in front of these men, when a feeling washed over me as if saying, You're such an idiot, Tim! You're wasting their time. What are you even doing here?
As I panicked, my eyes fell on then-Elder Oaks. My favorite detail in the dream was the yellow legal pad of paper Elder Oaks held in his hand, taking notes.
That detail indicated to me that this was being recorded. This was no social call.
Then a very different sort of feeling came over me, one of peace and understanding, communicating an awareness that the answers I sought were not here.
I understood, all at once, as if it should have been obvious to anyone with half a brain, that I had come to the wrong place.
In that moment, I knew I didn't need to ask them anything.
I felt foolish, but for a different reason. I was now able to speak, but this time I had no questions for the group.
"Thank you," was all I said to them, a feeling of pure love and gratitude filling my heart.
That was all I needed to say, in the end.
They stood and hugged me. I remember clearly the embrace of President Thomas B. Monson (even though President Hinckley was the prophet at the time), and how good it felt.
"Have Ye Inquired of the Lord?"
President Faust passed away a couple of years later. I will always be grateful to him for being the catalyst for this valuable lesson.
Things changed for me after my dream, leaving me with two long-lasting impressions:
(1) A love for the Brethren; and
(2) An understanding that the Brethren aren't the source of the answers I needed to progress on my sojourn here on earth.
"Lord, to whom shall we go?"
So what do we do? Where do we go, if the Brethren don't have the answers or solutions to our problems?
Peter's question took on new meaning for me after this experience, when Peter said to the Savior, "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life."
Now, to be clear, I believe we can receive the words of Christ from the mouths of babes. Even from the mouths of our modern leadership.
But as much as I believe that truth and light can come from others who speak with the tongue of angels the words of Christ, there is something distinctly precious about the words of Christ being spoken directly to us, Spirit-to-spirit.
What Are Prophets For?
What are prophets for, then?
Well, prophets invite us to come unto Christ.
And the way we come unto Christ, of course, is to have faith, repent, and to call upon God.
That last part sort of summarizes the first part, doesn't it? At the end of the day, it all comes down to talking to God and having God talk back to us.
For if ye would hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray, ye would know that ye must pray; for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray.
But behold, I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul.
(2 Nephi 32:8-9)
So, don't wait. Just start talking.
God is listening.
Why Haven't They Inquired of the Lord?
There are a lot of weighty matters that many of us are wrestling with, important doctrinal issues, practical day-to-day things we need further light and knowledge about in order to cope with our pain, understand our purpose, and be victorious in Christ.
Take, for example, the issue of Heavenly Mother which is an important topic for many members in the Church.
This past General Conference in the Women's Session, Elder Renlund addressed the issue of our Heavenly Mother, saying:
"Demanding revelation from God is both arrogant and unproductive. Instead, we wait on the Lord and His timetable to reveal His truths through the means that He has established."
(Dale G. Renlund, "Your Divine Nature and Eternal Destiny," April 2022)
Re-read that quote. Clear your mind. Open your heart. Can you feel the light in these words? Does it taste good? Does it fill your heart with grace in Christ?
No, me neither.
Was Elder Renlund saying we shouldn't ask the Brethren to petition the Lord for new revelation and light on various subjects?
Was Elder Renlund implying the Brethren either (1) do not ask, or (2) are unable to receive answers from the Lord?
Has Elder Renlund ever read the parable of the unjust judge, because his message is the exact opposite of what Christ taught.
The Parable of the Unjust Judge
And Jesus spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint;
Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man:
And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary.
And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man;
Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.
And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith.
And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them?
How do we explain the role of living prophets when they are strangely silent on critical issues of our time, except to reinforce a Western cultural narrative sprinkled superficially with scriptures?
Ezekiel lamented in his day:
Because, when a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash, therefore tell those who cover it with whitewash that it is going to fall.
When the wall collapses, will people not ask you, “Where is the whitewash you covered it with?”
(Ezekiel 13:10, 12, NIV)
What topics are we whitewashing?
Why can't we repair the gap with bricks of revelation and new truth from God rather than the dismissive whitewash of "it'll be okay, things will work out in the hereafter."
If Nephi Were Here Today
Remember the irony of Nephi being a teacher to his older brothers, and how they hated it?
How dare Nephi, a junior upstart, presume to educate his superiors, right?
Leaders: Behold, we cannot understand the words which our Prophet, Joseph Smith, hath spoken concerning the natural branches of the olive tree, and also concerning the Gentiles.
Nephi:Have ye inquired of the Lord?
Leaders: We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.
Nephi: How is it that ye do not keep the commandments of the Lord? How is it that ye will perish, because of the hardness of your hearts?
Leaders: Woah, hold on, Nephi. That sounds like apostasy to speak thus to us.
Nephi: Do ye not remember the things which the Lord hath said? —If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you.
Leaders: Thou hast declared unto us hard things, more than we are able to bear.
Nephi: And now my Brethren, if ye were righteous and were willing to hearken to the truth, and to give heed unto it, then ye would not murmur because of the truth.
Balaam was a bad prophet.
But even Balaam ― yes, Balaam! who was so off track God had to chastise him through a dumb donkey ― even Balaam spake answers from God.
- What happened to an open canon?
- What happened to the flood of truth that was going to sweep the earth?
- What happened to the time when nothing was going to be withheld, whether there be one God or many gods, all thrones and dominions, principalities and powers, and the bounds set to the heavens, and what was ordained in the Council of the Eternal God ― all of these precious truths that were to be revealed in the dispensation of the fulness of times?
Well, while we're waiting, we might as well . . . "ponderize."
Once upon a time, when I was youthful and idealistic, when I still had a full head of hair and a head full of dreams of what the future might bring, as a college student standing at the crossroads of adulthood, I experienced something that changed my life.
This was after my mission when I was still an undergraduate at Brigham Young University ― and like most students, I was a Gordian knot of hormones and hopes, dreams and desires, fears and yearning. Looking back, it amazes me how brightly we burn in our 20s, like sparklers on the 4th of July that fizzle all-too-soon.
(It reminds of something Voltaire said: What most men call chastity is, after the age of 40, simply a lack of energy.)
Anyway, it was during this time that I experienced my "James 1:5 Moment."
What is that? Remember when Joseph Smith was "laboring under extreme difficulties" and read in his scriptures the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse?
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.
(Joseph Smith History 1:12)
I know what Joseph Smith was talking about because I had a similar experience.
You probably have experienced it too: a moment of spiritual awakening when the Spirit sears into your soul the word of God as if it were a branding iron.
It leaves a mark, believe me.
Well, this kind of experience reset the trajectory of Joseph's life, and it altered the course mine.
But the funny part is the words of life we receive this way are not all the same.
It's like the Spirit knows what we personally need to springboard us into our life's mission, the thing that will propel us into our Sacred Groves where God can teach us what we need to know in order to complete our journeys here below.
For example, Joseph needed to hear about God giving wisdom and upbraiding not; he needed God to tell him that none of the Churches were worth their weight in eternal gold, and to join none of them.
Me? I had just turned on the water in the shower one afternoon (yes I know, receiving inspiration in the shower is so cliché; if I were making this up I would have invented a more fabulous setting, like a mountain top or swimming with sharks in the ocean) and I was wrestling with some difficult questions about the people I loved in my life.
Almost as soon as a question popped in my head, another voice jumped in with a verse from the New Testament, and the words came . . .
I don't know how else to explain it. They took on new meaning. It was like tasting food for the first time, really tasting it, as though my tongue had been numb my whole life.
The feelings persisted for days, months, and now years. It thrust me on a quest of sorts, for the holy grail we call the fruit of the Tree of Life.
Although these are Joseph's words, I can speak them as if they were my own:
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.
Here I am, over twenty years later, and I am still processing and pondering and unpackaging the light that burst upon me in that instant.
The Words of Life
What were the words I "heard" that day?
I'll share them with you in a minute. But this story is not about me; I want to make sure you understand that this is about the way the Lord plants His words in us, as a seed, knowing that one day it will grow and bear fruit.
That's the point of his word: to bear fruit.
I desire that ye shall plant this word in your hearts, and as it beginneth to swell even so nourish it by your faith. And behold, it will become a tree, springing up in you unto everlasting life.
Why does Jesus call himself the "Word?" What makes Him the Word of God?
What fruit does Christ bear? I know He's the vine, but He also bears fruit, doesn't he?
Am I exaggerating when I say everlasting life is the Word of God?
Look at how Mormon phrased it:
I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I have been called of him to declare his word among his people, that they might have everlasting life.
(3 Nephi 5:13)
The saddest thing in the world is how we tell people to read their scriptures without teaching them how to plant His word in their hearts.
It's like baptizing a bag of sand.
But when His word lives in us, we are "born again into the kingdom of heaven" ― which Enoch said is to "enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come" (Moses 6:59).
What Are the "Words of Life?"
In case that last part was confusing, let me put it another way:
We are born into the kingdom of heaventhrough the womb of Christ's words.
Does that help? The water, Spirit and blood of Christ's words result in rebirth. We are born again through Him as if he were our mother.
Peter testified to Christ, "Lord, to whom shall we go? thouhast the words of eternal life" (John 6:68).
Even though the words are His, they can become yours and mine when we allow Him to plant them in us.
So, to sum up, when the living Word is found in us, we have life everlasting. We see, then, that everlasting life is not a status we reach, but a condition of being for all of us who already are eternal creatures, without beginning or end.
And I, Jesus Christ, your Lord and your God, have spoken it.
These words are not of men nor of man, but of me; wherefore, you shall testify they are of me and not of man;
For it is my voice which speaketh them unto you; for they are given by my Spirit unto you, and by my power you can read them one to another; and save it were by my power you could not have them;
Wherefore, you can testify that you have heard my voice, and know my words.
My James 1:5
I told you I would share the scripture that exploded my mind, and here it is.
I won't expound on it here, but if you've read this blog at all, then you know that everything I have written comes back to this.
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.
When I was young I believed I could dig for truth like a gold miner with a pickaxe in search of precious metal, down and down, layer by layer, advancing towards greater (higher) (deeper) truth, line upon line, shovelful by shovelful, until some day I hoped to hit pay dirt.
The motherlode of all truths.
Oh, then I would be wise ― and spiritually rich, too! It would be like having access to all of the Banker's money in Monopoly to build my big, fat hotels on Park Place and Boardwalk (my mansions above).
Okay, I guess I loved games. And why wouldn't God make it fun for His children ― like a scavenger hunt, where God hides his truths in hard-to-find places, making us work for it like a treasure seeker, sprinkling codes and clues throughout the scriptures and his creation?
I believed if I was just smart enough, or good enough, and if I had the right tools, then I could discover the secret burial place where He has stashed His mysteries.
Where were all the spiritual archeologists uncovering the tombs of Pharaoh, unearthing the hidden secrets beneath the pyramids, deciphering the mysteries from ancient parchment?
Where were these "mysteries" I was supposed to be learning (and no, I wasn't learning them in Church)?
Seek not for riches but for wisdom, and behold, the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto you, and then shall you be made rich.
I am not alone. Many of you, I know, have spent years sacrificing, fasting, praying, weeping, and bleeding in this pursuit of truth, going through spiritual jungles in search of the precious mysteries of God ― scouring the landscape of the Spirit for Shangri-La, the Fountain of Youth, and the city of El Dorado.
Like you, I brandished my machete as if it were the sword of the spirit, enduring malaria and dodging tsetse flies in search of greater light and knowledge; I paddled down piranha-infested waters; thrice I was beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils among false brethren, in weariness and painfulness, in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness . . . .
(Okay, that last bit was the apostle Paul, not me.)
But have you imagined our quest for truth to be like that?
Well, forget all that.
Buy Now, Pay Later
Now let's get something clear. The X-Files was wrong.
The truth is not "out there."
The truth is "here" ― and always was.
All truth is present with us, and before us, even now.
Let me repeat this because it is one of the most valuable lessons I've learned in my scavenger hunting days:
All truth is present with us, and before us, NOW.
We are awash in truth, in all truth (!), even in the light and Spirit of Truth (!!).
Think of truth as infrared light.
Infrared waves surround us, wash over us, and yet we do not sense them.
We are birds who do not feel the air giving us lift; we are literally immersed in God's light as birds floating upon the wind who cannot perceive the mechanism keeping them afloat.
Infrared light exists, is present in and before us, and yet is a reality we are unable to see with our natural eyes.
Sometimes, though, when there's enough infrared light, humans can feel it as heat.
NASA tells us:
“Infrared waves have longer wavelengths than visible light and can pass through dense regions of gas and dust in space with less scattering and absorption.
"Thus, infrared energy can also reveal objects in the universe that cannot be seen in visible light using optical telescopes.”
King Benjamin described some sort of spiritual . . . thing . . . that quickens us:
[God] is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, [what does it mean to "lend?"] that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another.
(Mosiah 2:21) What is this thing that gives us life and agency to act?
Every part of our bodies is created with, and is composed of, elements from this planet (earth, or one of Christ's dominions which is ruled over by Satan at the moment).
This . . . thing . . . that quickens our bodies (and minds) is called the Light of Christ in scriptures.
(I don't know if physicists have located it yet with their scientific instruments.)
The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things.
Here's the tricky part: we are created from, and are filled with, this Light but we do not sense it!
That's right. We are looking straight into the eyes of God and do not see Him staring back.
The earth rolls upon her wings, and the sun giveth his light by day, and the moon giveth her light by night, and the stars also give their light, as they roll upon their wings in their glory, in the midst of the power of God.
Unto what shall I liken these kingdoms, that ye may understand?
Behold, all these are kingdoms, and any man who hath seen any or the least of these hath seen God moving in his majesty and power.
I say unto you, he hath seen him; nevertheless, he who came unto his own was not comprehended.
Jesus told us we do not comprehend Him.
(How can that be? How can we be oblivious to the greatest Light of all?)
Nevertheless, his light, his word, his spirit . . . and his truth . . . are everywhere and surround us, everyone of us, right now.
So what prevents us from discerning this Light?
Plain as Puddin' Pie
The weird thing is our eternal hopes hinge on our ability to "receive" this Light.
Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning [i.e., the light of truth] is plainlymanifest unto them, [is it obscured or hidden?] and they receive not the light.
Notice that the light is being broadcast around the clock. Notice that it has been around since we were born.
Notice that our job is to "receive" the light.
Well, Houston, we have a problem.
Just as easy as we can grow in this light, it is also possible for the light to seep out of us until it is barely a flicker (although it never goes out, ever).
So if I were Satan (not that I am campaigning for the job), the greatest blow I could give to the "agency of man" (which, remember, is what Satan tried to destroy in the beginning), is to TAKE. AWAY. LIGHT.
How does Satan take away the light of truth in us?
And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through (1) disobedience, from the children of men, and (2) because of the tradition of their fathers.
In the next post, we'll explore this interesting concept of "disobedience" and the "traditions of the fathers."