If you've read Parts 1 & 2, I can imagine someone saying:
"Tim, hold on. We don't always have the luxury of taking time to ponder on what is right. I mean, sometimes the gift of discernment is necessary precisely because we DON'T have complete information but we need to make a decision anyway, right then."
"I'm glad you're seeing reason at last," they continue. "Because we need to act upon our impressions before they grow cold and stale; we don't want to give ourselves time to doubt our promptings or to second-guess ourselves. Strike while the iron's hot, buddy. We need to trust in our spiritual manifestations."
"One last thing. What's all this business about 'pure knowledge'? Isn't discernment what we need when we lack knowledge? If we already knew what was right and wrong, we wouldn't need the gift of discernment in the first place. Discernment is what fills-in-the-blanks, allowing us to glimpse into God's mind."
Umm. Like during a séance? But these comments do not address the primary, fundamental issue, which is:
How do we know our impressions are God-given? How do we know we're discerning through the Holy Ghost and not some other spirit?
I would offer this counter-point:
Can Satan give us spiritual promptings? Can the devil appear as an angel of light? Can the devil whisper into our ears using a still, small voice?
"Oh sure, Tim, he can," my imaginary friend says. "But there's a handshake for that!"
Try the Spirits
In 1842 the Times and Seasons published Joseph Smith's Op Ed called "Try the Spirits." In it, Joseph laid out some principles to help us discern whether something is of God.
Joseph said it is easy to "fall into the common error of considering all supernatural manifestations to be of God."
Isn't that what we're worried about? After all, we're so starved for spiritual experiences, we'll bite on just about anything.
"Who can drag into daylight and develop the hidden mysteries of the false spirits that so frequently are made manifest among the Latter-day Saints?"
So we see it was (and still is) a problem for members of the Church. This isn't something that just plagues other sects and denominations.
"One great evil is, that men are ignorant of the nature of spirits; their power, laws, government, intelligence, &c., and imagine that when there is anything like power, revelation, or vision manifested, that it must be of God."
This is why I try to be careful when I say, "God said to me. . . ." Did He? Or did I receive inspiration from another source, like Hiram Page?
"Spirits of all kinds have been manifested, in every age―all have their spirits, all have a supernatural agency, and all contend that their spirits are of God. Who shall solve the mystery?"
So how did Joseph solve it? How do we tell good spirits from bad ones?
Well, interestingly he took things in a direction I wasn't expecting. The solution lies, simply, in "the priesthood."
Which makes perfect sense, really, when we understand what the priesthood actually is: to possess the knowledge of God. ("In knowledge there is power; God has more power than all other beings, because He has greater knowledge." Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 5:340.)
In this way the Melchizedek Priesthood holds the keys of the knowledge of God (D&C 84:19). A person who has parted the veil, who has received godly knowledge, can then use that knowledge to discern whether something is of God or not.
Not The Same?
I want to make something clear: the gift of discernment is, for practical purposes, a gift of comparison.
Discernment grows as our experience of and intimacy with God grows, until the perfect day.
When we know God, He becomes the ideal (the model, the exemplar) by which we can spot any inferior and/or counterfeit spirits.
Using the standard of Christ's Spirit, we are able to sense His same Spirit (or its absence) in all things; that is how we measure whether something is good or evil.
But this only works if we actually know God.
In other words, after we've tasted the goodness and grace and love of Jesus (Mormon 1:15), we will be able to detect the presence (or lack thereof) of that Spirit in others, like Moses.
And Moses said to Satan: Where is thy glory, that I should worship thee?
I can judge between Him and thee [because] mine own eyes have beheld God . . . I beheld his face.
Depart from me, Satan.
(Moses 1:13, 15, 11)
I think this explains why our spidey-senses are so messed up and why discernment is so sorely lacking in the world ― and, dare I say, in the Church.
The confusion stems from a lack of knowledge. Specifically, a lack of the knowledge of who God is.
The solution, therefore, is to preach the gospel; to teach others how to come unto Christ (for real, not through make-believe or through carnal security).
When they experience God's goodness, thereafter they will be able to discern the truth by holding all things to His light.
"I can discern between different types of ramen because I have eaten them all, in various prefectures, while living in Japan," he said. "The moral of the story is that a [person who hasn't experienced the real thing hasn't] got a clue what good ramen is."
Like me, for example, who has only eaten ramen from the shelf at Walmart: dehydrated noodles that come with a flavor packet.
If I went to Japan, I would have no idea how to judge the quality of real ramen. And another problem: even if I wanted to experience all the ramen there is, I don't have time to sample every single ramen known to man.
But let's say I take a trip with David who has had time to get to know the ramen-scene better than anyone? He introduces me to the best ramen restaurant and, being a connoisseur, can affirm, "Tim, this is the best ramen there is."
Thereafter I will compare all ramen to that one, because I trust him and His knowledge of ramen. And this is how Christ saves us: He knows the best ramen restaurants and takes us there; He educates our taste buds (our desires).
This explains the mysterious saying from Isaiah:
By his [Christ's] knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many.
This is why we DON'T have to experience everything ourselves, so don't worry ― we merely need to experience everything with Christ.
Now, back home in Utah, I'll go to lunch with Bob and we'll eat ramen together. Bob lauds it as the best ramen ever. Really? In Salt Lake City?
Having been exposed to something greater and better in Japan, I'll know Bob is wrong, but I won't fault him for it. After all, Bob is just speaking from his own (limited) experience.
(Compared to Christ, consider how limited all of our experiences are.)
I'll go to Church and listen to people preach from the pulpit. They'll teach what what they have experienced. And here's a secret: all those who have experienced God can tell when someone else has, too.
What is "Good" Ramen?
Now the main point:
How do we tell if the ramen is "good"? Isn't that subjective?
I think the doctrinal key we should understand is:
Remember that every good gift cometh of Christ.
You see, Satan gives gifts, too. He makes all kinds of ramen. He's quite generous. The devil will bestow riches and praise and eloquence and all kinds of perks upon his children. They feast upon his noodles as if they were flaxen cords.
So don't assume just because someone has a gift it comes from God. Only those things that come by the gift and power of Christ can be considered "good."
On the other hand, gifts that come from a source other than God will ultimately condemn us, though we will have joy in them for a season.
But if it be not built upon my gospel, and is built upon the works of men, or upon the works of the devil, verily I say unto you they have joy in their works for a season, and by and by the end cometh, and they are hewn down and cast into the fire . . . for their works do follow them.
(3 Nephi 27:11-12)
When the end comes, we will discover that the ungodly gifts we have taken so much pride in, and believed they were of God when in fact they were not, will consume us; having taken strength through them, they become a "worm that dieth not, and a fire that is not quenched" (Mark 9:48).
So the name-of-the-game is to know whether we are operating within the auspices of God's gifts, or another's.
That's why we're here! To discern between the things of God and the natural man. To understand what is actually "good."
The challenge is that our churches are telling us things are "good" when they are not; getting us to do things as if we were doing them in God's power and Spirit, when in fact we're lifting dumbbells with the arm of flesh. Our muscles (and bank accounts) are growing through steroids, not the Spirit of God.
And at the last day, our biceps shall burst and deflate like a balloon.
None Doeth "Good"?
Moroni tells us that "none doeth good." Wait. What? That's not possible. There are tons of good causes, and good works, and good people in the world. Right?
There shall be none that doeth good among you [say it ain't so! He's not talking about us, is he?] no not one [what about President Nelson?].
Or if there be one among you that doeth good, [*major sigh of relief*] he shall work by
(1) the power and (2) gifts of God.
In case that was confusing, let me put it this way:
A thing is only "good" if it abides in the Spirit (power) of God, done through His gifts.
Umm. Talk about snap-judgments! Remember how the Lord doesn't judge based on the "outward appearance?" Well, for us, that's impossible. Our brain is assessing everything around us all the time, drawing conclusions and making judgments, without conscious thought.
Now, what does this have to do with the gift of discernment?
Quite a lot. But not in the way we might think.
Divination is NOT Discernment
If I interviewed random members of the Church on the street (like Jay Leno used to do on the Tonight Show), asking them, "What is the gift of discernment?", and took their off-the-cuff answers, I would expect the most common response would be something like this:
"Discernment is a special feeling I get from the Holy Ghost about something or someone, whether good or bad."
Good heavens! No wonder discernment is as rare as hen's teeth, when we equate it with a "spiritual intuition" or some kind of gut feeling we get from the Spirit about someone or something.
Do we see how easy we're making it for those devils to trick us? For them to play (and prey) upon our emotions? To fool us by using our biases against us?
The Lord warned us not to be duped, He did. How often do we cleave to our prejudices and call them inspiration? How often do we reach for some sort of spiritual justification with which to gratify our pride and cover our sins?
There are many spirits which are false spirits, which have gone forth in the earth, deceiving the world.
And also Satan hath sought to deceive you.
Let me shout it from the rooftops in an effort to expose the adversary's clever tactic, to wit:
The best way to neutralize God's gifts is not to deny them outright, but to co-opt them, getting members of the Church to believe they have God's gifts, and that they are using them ― when in fact we are relying upon our own wisdom and our own strength.
In other words, the devil's great coup is (and has always been) to transform the Church of God into a great and spacious building, all the while making us believe we're building sanctuaries of faith, when in reality we are worshipping at shrines built from our own pride.
So it is with discernment. The devil knows there is no better deception than to get us to use the arm of flesh as if it were God's own.
The Church's definition of the gift of discernment is found in the Guide to Scriptures: "To understand or know something through the power of the Spirit."
Ooookay. How do we know we know it by "the power of the Spirit" and not some other way? This is kind of important, because the Church tells us we can "perceive the true character of people" using this "gift."
You see, the common understanding we have of "the gift of discernment" ― once we unpeel the layers around it ― more closely resembles the art of divination.
Is divination good or bad?
What is divination?
Divination has always been a problem for the House of Israel.
Look closely at these words from Ezekiel, who warns us against following the wrong spirit, and ask yourself how it relates to discernment:
Thus saith the Lord God; Woe unto [those] that follow their own spirit . . . .
They have seen vanity and lying divination, saying, The Lord saith: and the Lord hath NOT sent them.
(Ezekiel 13:3, 6)
The way we take the name of the Lord in vain is to credit Him for thoughts, ideas, or words that He did not speak.
How ironic it is, the way we use our feelings like a divining rod, following our own emotions that may have as easily been influenced by "an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato" as much they were the Holy Ghost.
Rather than relying upon the will-o-the-wisp of our emotions to guide us ― since feelings ebb and flow like the tides of the ocean, often bringing to the shore all kinds of seaweed and junk, such as the broken shells of past trauma or internalized shame that we project upon the present ― perhaps there's a better way.
Joseph Smith said (and if he didn't, I still believe the sentiment):
"A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, you may feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas." (TPJS, 151.)
"Objection, Your Honor!"
"But Tim!" someone objects. "Didn't God give us intuition and instinct and feelings to help us make decisions?"
God created us with hormones and brain chemicals that are part of a biological landscape designed to be part of our mortal test. Emotions are an integral part of our eternal existence. It is remarkable that even God experiences emotion, whose bowels are moved with compassion (D&C 121:3); and who weeps for joy (3 Nephi 17:21). Emotions produce a physiological effect even in resurrected beings.
But the point I want to make is the Spirit is not physical. It speaks spirit-to-spirit.
I think this is a good place to apply Joseph's oft-quoted statement. As you read it, see how it relates to discernment, and if it fits into our "feelings."
The things of God are of deep import; and
can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must
(6)stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and
(7)search into and
(8) contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity.
(Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 3:295–96)
Sure, sure. And yet, we think having a negative experience or reaction to something or someone is God giving us discernment?
It's been two weeks since my last post and a lot has happened in the world. I needed some time away in order to reflect and recharge, to "sharpen the saw" (to borrow Stephen Covey's phrase) ― or as the apostle Paul put it, to "be renewed in the spirit of [my] mind" (Ephesians 4:23).
During this brief sabbatical I read poetry and pondered on the goings-on in the world around us.
I traveled to Portland Oregon and walked along the Willamette River as the first fingers of Fall brushed against my neck, giving me goosebumps as I watched the sun setting on the City of Roses. I ate fish & chips and drank Pepto-Bismol and made new friends from different walks of life.
I returned home and sat in my blue leather chair, and read picture books to my little boys and studied the New Testament with my family; I attended a wedding for a nephew and went to Church and listened to testimonies from the pulpit; I drove my kids to marching band rehearsal and learned my neighbor of 14 years is moving to a retirement community because he can't handle stairs anymore . . . and on and on, a thousand things have entered and exited my life during these two weeks, some great and some small ― the difficulty is telling which is which ― and what to keep and what to let go.
And I've wondered.
I've wondered what God is doing.
I've wondered what God is thinking.
I've wondered what God desires.
I've wondered what God wants me to share with you.
So welcome back.
The Purpose of Life
I've concluded that Adam and Eve's reason for partaking of the forbidden fruit, though noble, was largely wasted on us (I'll explain why in a moment).
Remember in the Garden, the serpent's great selling point to Eve? The thing worth leaving Eden for?
And the serpent said unto the woman . . . Your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
Notice what, specifically, is the thing that makes us "as gods"? Of all the wonderful attributes of God, which characteristic was the focus of the Fall?
Knowing good and evil.
Well, Satan was correct (at least in this one thing). The Lord Himself corroborated the truth of it, stating Adam and Eve had become "as gods" by partaking of the fruit.
And the Lord God said: Behold, the man is become as one of us to know good and evil.
Question: What is the difference between being "asgod" versus being agod?
You see, we're "as gods." We resemble the gods in our faculties. But to become "a" god, we've got some work to complete.
Alma taught the folks in Ammonihah that after the Fall, mankind:
becam[e] as gods, knowing good from evil.
We find a subtle difference here in Alma's rendering: instead of knowing "good AND evil," he said we know "good FROM evil."
The point: The reason mortality is necessary for us is not just to EXPERIENCE good and evil, bitter and sweet, pleasure and pain. It is foremost to gain the ability to DISCERN the difference between them (and, naturally, to choose the good).
For example, if I blindfolded you and gave you a lemon to suck on, and then offered you a bit of honey, would you be able to tell me which one was sour and which was sweet? Of course.
But when it comes to spiritually discerning good from evil, we are so easily confounded; we confuse them all the time. We chomp down a grapefruit and tell people it's a ripe juicy peach.
Why are our spiritual taste buds so messed up?
Why do we have trouble discerning correctly?
Why do we call good evil, and evil good?
Wanted: The Gift of Discernment
I am worried (and I'm generally a happy-go-lucky guy, so this is saying something).
Something that has been weighing on me for awhile is our lack of discernment.
The irony is that we quote Isaiah's words (a formal "woe") regarding judging wrongly, when labeling things we don't like as "evil" (or "good", but generally evil, since we whip this verse out to condemn others who hold different values than our own).
Thereby we invoke the scripture and fulfill it in the same breath, as we opine and mischaracterize what is evil without knowledge, and without wisdom. Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil;
that put darkness for light, and light for darkness;
that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
I mean, 9 times out of 10 when someone cites this text, the things they're accusing of being "evil" aren't; and the things they think are "good" are not.
Now don't worry, I confess to being guilty; I am not a pot calling the kettle black. The gift of discernment has often been lacking from my own life. So I am speaking of myself as much as I am anyone else.
This is why I have earnestly sought and asked the Lord for the gift of discernment (see D&C 46:23).
How are we to judge?
Not just good from evil, no, but the harder thing: judging good from good?
Christ vs. Anti-Christ
We're told to not judge a book by its cover, but how else are we supposed to judge it?
After all, there's a reason it has the title and author on the cover!
Look, has someone gone into the library late at night, deviously, and switched the dust jackets on all the books, so each one sports the wrong cover? How awful would that be! How would you be able to browse the shelves and know what you're picking?
Well, life is sort of like that. The only way to truly "know" a book is to actually read it. But who has time for that? Far too many of us are going around reading what's on the spine only, or skipping to the last page, or reading the Cliff Notes and pretending at Book Club to have read the thing.
Discernment only works if we know (actually know) the thing we're judging; it is a gift born of knowledge; too often we think we have some sort of spiritual antennae that starts to twitch and so we judge hastily, without really knowing what we're doing, assuming "the Spirit" is giving us smoke signals and interpreting the tea leaves pridefully, but poorly.
In this Series I hope our eyes will be opened, that we will "see" (discern) as gods through the gift of "pure knowledge" (D&C 121:42).
Because it's time we prepare to discern between Christ and the Anti-Christ.
"Tim!" someone says, "I think I can tell the difference between Christ and the Anti-Christ. I mean, they're not alike at all."
Au contraire. They are more alike than we think; to almost every sense they appear the same ― and yet they are utterly opposed. They are so similar even the very elect, if it were possible, shall be deceived.
(How else do we account for Satan's ability to lead away a third-part of the hosts of heaven?)
Some people get excited for Taylor Swift concerts; others for a medium-rare filet mignon; and others of us are thrilled just to make it to the end of our workday without falling apart.
I cannot be the only one who feels a foreigner in this life ― a pilgrim in a strange land ― trespassing through this telestial world and longing for a better.
At one low-point in my life I told a friend (who I happened to have lunch with last Saturday at Texas Roadhouse, speaking of steaks, and he reminded me of this), at one time I must have been feeling particularly maudlin and I said to him, "When the Grim Reaper comes knocking at my door, I shall throw my arms open and pull him into a warm embrace, plant a kiss his cheek, and say, 'What took you so long?'"
I doubt I'll ever climb Everest in this life or swim with the sharks in the tropics or run for the president of the United States; but if I can learn to hear the voice of my Shepherd, then I'll have had quite the adventure.
If you share similar passions, and are feeling hungry ― whether you're mile-high or having a midlife melt-down ― welcome; I am glad you're here.
Wherever we find ourselves on this journey, I love you; and I have some good news to brighten your day: yesterday my friend Clark Burt (yes, that oracle of octogenarians) began a new series on repentance; I am sure it will be epic.
Can you think of anything more timely? If repentance saved Nineveh, why not New York?
Clark said, "When it comes to repentance, it never hurts to nudge someone towards turning to Christ. It is, after all, the greatest good we can do for them."
So while we're waiting for Clark's next installment, I have a few thoughts I wanted to share on the topic.
Repentance as Taught by Christ
Let's look briefly at what the Savior taught about repentance, shall we?
Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
Don't miss this point: the sinful publican was welcome to the temple, too. Instead of making the publican sit in the waiting area while his friend got sealed, Jesus grants him the same access to the temple as the obedient, non-coffee-drinking Pharisee.
Now let's see what the Pharisee says; can he pass our Temple Recommend Interview?
God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
Here the Pharisee passed with flying colors. He doesn't smoke, drink, or read unapproved literature. In fact, he goes the extra mile:
I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
"How impressive!" No, no, that's not where the Lord goes with this parable at all. In fact, the Lord seems singularly unimpressed with the Pharisee's "worthiness."
And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
Re-read the prayer of the publican. Seven words. Not a single boast. Did the publican promise God he'd never sin again? Did he pinky-swear to take it easy on the juice?
No, no. But we want to put on our Bishop's hat and get this publican on the straight-and-narrow.
"Okay Bob, let's meet weekly to see how you're progressing along the covenant path; you'll need to cut your hair and remove those earrings; stop visiting the bars, and attend all of your church meetings. And please be mindful of what you're doing with your private parts at all times. If you demonstrate that you can remain sober and chaste-as-a-child for a year, you'll be able to qualify to enter into the House of the Lord. Then, and only then, will you be able to experience the grace of God that is reserved for those who receive His ordinances."
No, no, no and no. The Lord concludes his parable without any reform on the part of the publican; there's absolutely no assurance that the publican will change his behavior going forward. Yet:
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other.
You see, Jesus is unimpressed with our Temple Worthiness charade. We are all sinners.
Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.
It would be like the Lord saying to the members of the Church today:
Verily I say unto you, That drag queens and democrats go into the kingdom of God before you.
(Matt. 21:31, 2023 Ed.)
When we frame the issue around being "worthy" to enter the temple, we highlight a fundamental flaw in our understanding of the gospel.
Turning "repentance" into a game of whack-the-mole, trying to juggle all of the commandments and not drop any, is a frustrating and futile endeavor. Instead of thinking of repentance as the subtraction of vice, what if we viewed it as the addition of Christ's virtue?
What if repentance was about gaining something we don’t have? This je ne sais quoi is NOT something the Church can give us, but only God.
In this way, repentance becomes about receiving God's gifts rather than losing our "badness." After all, we could spend all of our time weeding our souls, but the weeds would just come back again (those 'noxious' weeds are awfully resilient).
I fear it is far too easy to become focused on forsaking our sins when we should be focused on Christ.
Our sins fall away not because we have sterilized our souls, but because, carrying Christ's grace within us, we find we have no more room (or desire) for them. We lay them aside as a garment we have outgrown; why would we obsess over that old ratty rock concert t-shirt?
We are all going to wrestle with the flesh while here on earth (insert: anything written by the apostle Paul).
So even if we uprooted all of our sins and were sinless, we would still not be saved. Because the condition of sinlessness is not the same as being "perfect in Christ."
Think about that: even if we were perfect, we would still be lost without the Savior.
How Do We Repent?
Someone online wrote, "In the Church we’re told to repent, but nobody explains what that really means."
I disagree; I think the Church teaches that "repentance" means (at least from its perspective) to keep the commandments.
The rub, of course, is figuring out which "commandments" we're supposed to obey. Budweiser? No. Eat meat sparingly? Ummm. Polygamy? It's complicated.
The Church has solved the issue by telling members to follow the living prophet and our file leaders. Or, as the jargon goes, "Keep a current temple recommend."
All this to say, we're taught repentance is behavioral: to STOP doing whatever it is we're doing that goes against current Church standards and to START doing whatever is necessary to keep us on the "covenant path."
A behavioral focus, though, tends to produce whited sepulchers and sterile hearts. I do not think that was the Lord's intent when He called us to repent.
Another problem arises, you see, from the fact the Brethren have not spoken univocally during this dispensation; they do not share one voice. Different administrations have taught different standards (see: Heber J. Grant and the Word of Wisdom; Wilford Woodruff and polygamy; Russell M. Nelson and using the nickname Mormon).
So there's the challenge we face: the Church does not have an objective standard of righteousness.
(Which is ironic, since you'd assume the standard would be Christ and His gospel and not whatever soup du jour is being served.)
This flawed line of reasoning can be seen in the oft-quoted illustration given by Karl Maeser:
"Elder Karl G. Maeser had occasion to lead a group of missionaries across the Alps. As they reached the summit of the trail they had followed, Elder Maeser invited the missionaries to turn and look back at the trail behind them. What they saw was a series of sticks placed alongside the trail.
"Elder Maeser then said: 'Brethren, there stands the priesthood. They are just common sticks like the rest of us - some of them are even crooked, but the position they hold makes them what they are to us. If we step aside from the path they mark, we are lost.'" (Church News, 16 May 1998, "Priesthood Restoration").
In this story we see Christ (who is the Way) being supplanted by sticks marking the path. Got it.
I Concur with the Concurrence of the Concurred
Church discipline provides an interesting litmus test for what the Church values. I mean, really values.
We see the Church rolling out the red carpet of repentance to just about anyone, for just about anything, except in two cases:
(1) those who embezzle tithing funds at the local level; and
(2) those who express an opinion publicly that goes against the Brethren.
Nevermind committing adultery, child abuse, and white collar fraud: that we can work with.
Sadly, I think this demonstrates that the Church prioritizes, above all else, its money and reputation. (There's a Russian saying that goes, "Little thieves are hanged, but great ones escape.")
Nevermind what Jesus said about the deceitfulness of riches and the cares of the world. Instead, it's sort of like there's a new Sheriff in town:
And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him:
but whosoever speaketh against the [Brethren], it shall not be forgiven him.
Thus we've culled the herd of vocal dissent by adopting "the doctrine of contemporary concurrence" (yes, I just made up that up, but I quite like it).
The Doctrine of Contemporary Concurrence (trademark pending) teaches that we must follow the Living Prophet ― ergo, there is no right vs. wrong per se― only what is currently taught to be right or wrong, as Elder Haynie cleared up for us.
"Maitre d, I'll have the Chicken Noodle"
Once we realize the Church's doctrine is based upon moral subjectivity that changes over the generations, it creates a bit of an existential crisis. How can we tell if the changes are a result of "continuing revelation" or apostasy?
If the conditions of exaltation become tethered to the living prophet, then it means our pioneer ancestors were saved on different terms than we are today.
This doctrinal relativity has painted the Church into an unfortunate corner because Joseph Smith said, "All must be saved on the same principles" (TPJS, p. 419).
The soup du jour (yesterday was Tomato Basil but today you must eat Beef and Barley) is injurious to the Lord's doctrine of repentance and negates His gospel, making it of "none effect."
As the Lord observed among the Jews:
Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.
Why? Because our consciences cannot tolerate the spiritual whiplash and arbitrariness that accompanies the Doctrine of Contemporary Concurrence, which has dethroned the word of God for the traditions of the elders of the Church.
Members are seeking a rock upon which to plant their faith, but find themselves standing upon a sandy foundation ― to wit: the Church's claims to unimpeachable authority, which aren't cogent since it has reversed itself on a number of core doctrines previously held as essential.
We're seeing the result: people are leaving the faith because of the Church's contradictions. Some call it hypocrisy. Others wonder why the Church digs in its heels and fails to acknowledge what is apparent to everyone: a prophet is not someone who holds an office, but someone who speaks the word of God.
Back to repentance: the way to save the Church is to repent; individually, yes, but also as a people, institutionally.
This is why I am so excited about Clark's new series.
The Parable of the Unclean Spirit
Another parable by Christ that is in the "weird" category:
When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none.
Pretend we scrub our souls clean and get rid of all of our bad habits, so that our behavior is everything a member of the Church should be. Sound good? Well, get ready:
Then he saith, [the unclean spirit we've cast aside] I will return into my house [yikes! He remembers our home address] from whence I came out; [you see, it "came out" of us: we have far more intimacy with these spirits than we realize] and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished.
Oh oh. What went wrong? Isn't it better to be "empty" than to be filled with unclean spirits? Umm, not exactly.
Sure, nobody wants to have a temper, or to lust, or to be prideful, or covet. So what is Jesus saying, exactly? Isn't it a good thing to get rid of these demons? Didn't he Himself go around casting out devils?
Then goeth he, [that obnoxious unclean spirit] and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, [uggg; he's got friends needing a place to couch-crash] and they enter in and dwell there. What? The evil spirit is throwing a house party?! With seven other spirits (what is special about the number 7)? Yes, while the Parents are away the spirits will play.
Ah, now we see the problem. Being "empty." Nature abhors a vacuum; we WILL be filled one way or another; the only question is whether it will be with unclean or holy spirits.
That's the key! The only way to permanently cast out our inner-demons is to be “possessed” by good spirits. This is where God comes in.
When we come unto Christ, the Natural Man (the unclean spirits, the flesh) becomes replaced with Christ's holy Spirit, even the Spirit of the Exalted Man.
Now the Lord is Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom . . . which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
(2 Cor. 3:17-18, NIV)
This is a work done by, and through, Christ, as co-laborers. We might win a battle here or there, but the war will be lost; the only lasting victory comes from the Cross, not from our current (and temporary) sin-less-ness.
and the last state of that man is worse than the first.
What is the greatest "good" spirit we can fill ourselves with? The greatest of them all? It is the spirit of charity.
But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him. (Moroni 7:47) You see, Zion isn’t purity-culture; it is to be pure in heart.
I grew up hearing my parents talk about doing "proxy work for the dead" in the temple.
In a legal context, a "proxy" is someone who votes on behalf of an absentee party (a proxy, though, does not confer a general power of attorney).
But this idea of a proxy relationship doesn't appeal to me in a spiritual context. I mean, it doesn't scream warm-and-cuddly, does it? Is there anything about being someone's proxy that promotes equality? Sure, we could send our partner in our place, but we could as easily send a stranger.
Thus, proxies tell us nothing about the interpersonal relationship between the two people.
The idea of being "proxies" for the dead is an interesting notion. Did they give us their permission to be their proxies? This is all part of a broader theological matrix which, in the LDS Church, we call "vicarious work."
The word "vicarious" does not appear in scripture; it is a novelty of our evolving temple doctrine.
Well, I take that back. The word does appear in D&C 138 in Joseph F. Smith's vision of the dead from 1918, in which President Smith used his own vernacular to describe what he saw:
These were taught faith in God, repentance from sin, vicarious baptism for the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, and all other principles of the gospel.
Question: If ordinance-work can be performed by proxies, why do any of us need to receive the ordinances personally? Why not have Adam splashed in the water by immersion for his entire race?
One and done.
The implications of vicarious work, when we apply it to Christ's sacrifice, are staggering.
Consider: What's the point of "being tested" during our mortal probation if God's work can be accomplished vicariously through a third-party? Aren't we all handed a resurrection button at some point, regardless?
Thought experiment: Pretend we're on Christ's football team. But ask yourself, Why does our Star Quarterback (who is a One-Man-Show) need us on His team at all? Picture a quarterback who throws the ball and then runs downfield to catch it, who cannot be blocked or tackled as he spikes the football in the end zone of death and hell?
If we are saved by Christ's merits only, are we left watching? Do we stand there clapping for Him as He wins the game on our behalf? Are we just His cheering squad?
And at the end of the game, when they pass out Superbowl Championship Rings to the whole team, we'll know it was Christ alone who won and earned the right to wear the Ring. So the fact that we're given a ring, too (a crown), is that just, like, a participation trophy?
I think we need to consider where we fit in the equation. If we are redeemed in consequence of Jesus's vicarious awesomeness ― what's the point of a victory we didn't earn?
(And no, I don't think we can "earn" salvation; that's not what I mean). I am asking, Where's the moral victory in having undeserved success? What's really going on?
I want to offer a different perspective on the atonement.
The Problem with Vicariousness
Simply put, the problem we face with all this "vicarious" business is that it is one-sided.
It is like viewing Christ in Gethsemane on the television screen, behind glass, as though we were passive observers.
But His sacrifice was not a spectator sport. The atonement is not something we witness, but experience; but we cannot experience it alone, solitarily, by ourselves: it must be shared.
Yes, of course we share it fully with Christ, but more than that, with each other. Salvation is received from Christ individually: but it is shared and enjoyed collectively.
All of this to say, the whole point of Christ's mission was to overcome our alienation.
The atonement means to be reconciled; alienation means to be separated.
The real challenge is to be reconciled to each other.
So let's return to this idea of proxies: a proxy is unidirectional; it is not reciprocated. A vicarious sacrifice is quite useless unless it is shared.
"No Substitutions Allowed"
Now to my main point: Is it time we abandon the Substitution Theory of the atonement?
I wonder if Christianity got off on the wrong foot with this idea that Christ stepped into our shoes to receive our punishment undeservedly. This kind of Ransom Theory was popularized by Elder Boyd K. Packer in his parable in the talk, "The Mediator".
Elder Packer's parable is quite legalistic: "The man signed a contract and the contract fell due; the debt had not been fully paid [i.e., the man defaulted on his loan]. His creditor appeared and demanded payment in full."
Question: Who is this awful "creditor" in the parable? Who's foreclosing on our home? The bank? The Father? Amorphous "Justice"?
What a doctrinal dark hole to fall into, believing that Christ had to suffer to appease . . . who? What? Some sort of cosmic absolutes?
No, no, no, no, no (that was a lot of no's, so you know I'm passionate now).
Christ didn't suffer in order to appease a third party; Christ suffered to appeal to us.
"Tim, I want to be in a loving, intimate relationship with you: an intimacy so profound we will become one; we will know each other perfectly, as all divine exalted beings do. To show you I'm serious, I will make myself vulnerable and will share in your pain, your anguish, your sickness, your brokenness. All this I will do because I want to understand you and for you to trust me; I want to heal you; I want to abide in you always."
So let's stop pretending Christ was a chip used to buy off our creditor.
"But Tim," someone objects. "How do you explain the 'demands of justice'?"
What if the demands of justice meant we endured the consequences of our choices alone? In isolation from God, alienated from His loving embrace? Naked against the wind?
What if the arms of mercy meant we endure the consequences of our choices with God holding our hand, unwilling to let us go, feeling and suffering everything with us, His robe encircling us, giving us the strength to endure to the end, which we would not have been able to do but for Him cleaving to us?
Remember: a proxy requires the absence of the other person.
Where does meaning come from? How do we make sense of our lives?
There is so much randomness in the world; so many things are left to chance. Misfortune abounds. Are we just evolved amoebas drifting towards nihilism?
I think it is easy for us to become discouraged when we witness the disorder and disharmony of our lives here on earth. Sickness, mental health struggles, loss of employment, death, and a million other tragedies plague our steps, chipping away at our peace-of-mind.
During such times, I try to remember to look up, because there is no disorder among the stars. I take comfort in their serenity; in the fact they follow preordained courses, faithfully moving along their appointed paths.
See: spirits unorganized
gods who cannot die even if they wanted See: bound to exist inexorably
―forecasting tides to schedules preordained
charting migratory paths
predictably across millennia as whales journeying thru firmament's fire
In this Series we're trying to lay a foundation upon which we may appreciate the Lord's handiwork displayed prominently throughout the heavens, testifying of His faithfulness and loving-kindness.
I know this isn't everyone's cup of tea; but if you'll bear with me, I believe there is something important the scriptures are trying to tell us by pointing to the stars:
Thou hast had signs enough . . . all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and call 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.
But the stars do far more than just reassure us that there is a God out there, that we're not just cosmic dust; they also testify of His nature.
"Eat Your Vitamins"
I've spent a lot of time in previous posts explaining why this subject is not superfluous to our faith, but is actually central to our receiving a correct understanding of the character of God (see, Third Lectures on Faith).
You see, the challenge is finding someone who can explain these things to us truthfully ― someone with the key of knowledge who can shepherd our understandings through the heavens. We won't find lesson materials in our Sunday School Manual for Cassiopeia and Sagittarius. Where can we learn the truth?
Of course the Lord is capable of teaching us about these things directly (as we see in Abraham 3:11-12). I am a firm believer that if any of us lack wisdom, then let him or her ask of God, who giveth liberally. So keep knocking!
But me, really? Heaven help us, I am the worst possible candidate to be doing this. After all, I am acutely aware of my limitations and weakness; someone should probably take away my crayons because I have trouble coloring inside the lines.
I am not a student or scholar of astronomy. As proof, I've gone to John Pratt's celestial calendar website and I confess I can't make heads-or-tails of it. I've tried but failed to untangle his calculations and dates and whatnot.
So if you feel I am out of my league . . . you're right!
I am desperately hoping someone else will step up to the plate, but until then, if I swing and miss, be patient with me and please don't kick me off the team.
Certainly I am not the only one who feels like we're standing around a gaping black hole in our collective understanding of the celestial signs-of-the-times. Will we pretend the hole isn't there? Should we continue to ignore it? I find this all deliciously ironic since the Restoration promised nearly 200 years ago that:
God shall give unto you knowledge by his Holy Spirit, yea, by the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost, that has not been revealed since the world was until now . . . .
A time to come in the which nothing shall be withheld, whether there be one God or many gods, they shall be manifest.
And also, if there be bounds set to the heavens or to the seas, or to the dry land, or to the sun, moon, or stars―
All the times of their revolutions, all the appointed days, months, and years, and the days of their days, months and years, and all their glories, laws, and set times, shall be revealed in the days of the dispensation of the fulness of times.
Well, the sad thing is we have seen scientists putting our seers to shame; we know more about the universe because of Albert Einstein than we do because of George Albert Smith.
A seer is greater than a prophet . . . [for] a seer can know of things which are past, and also of things which are to come, and by them shall all things be revealed, or, rather, shall secret things be made manifest, and hidden things shall come to light, and things which are not known shall be made known by them.
(Mosiah 8:15, 17)
Where can we find someone like this?!
Where are the seers?
This week saw a rare blue super moon (the last one for 14 years). I was in my study around 9:00 p.m. the other night praying and pondering, when my 9-year-old burst in: "Daddy, do you want to see the moon?"
We went outside and all the wildfire smoke and clouds had cleared, giving us a clear view of the moon. It was stunning.
My son pointed to a bright star, presiding above the moon's shoulder to the left: "What's that?" he asked.
"Saturn," I said.
You may not be aware that Saturn represents time (the god Chronos). According to Cicero, "By Saturn [the ancients] seek to represent that power which maintains the cyclic course of times and seasons." (De Natura Deorum, 45 B.C.).
How fitting, then, that Saturn wears a figurative as well as literal crown (its rings), typifying its sovereignty over the course of celestial bodies traveling in this system (or as they call it the Book of Abraham, in this "same order" (Abr. 3:3)).
What is fascinating about the ancient temple worship of Saturn is that the ritus graecus was performed while the head was uncovered; this was unusual because the other gods were always worshipped with the supplicant's head covered (and we are all familiar with the covering of the head in the temple).
But curiously, in the temple of Saturn it was the opposite: it was Saturn Himself who was veiled, not the officiants.
The idea of the veil is important to both Judaism and Christianity. The Lord promised the early Church that "the veil shall be rent and you shall see me" (D&C 67:10). We saw this occur with the likes of the Brother of Jared, of whom it was written, he "could not be kept from beholding within the veil" (Ether 3:19).
What is the veil? Well, it depends on which one you mean. The scriptures describe numerous veils, but if we're talking about the veil of forgetfulness, it is the womb of all creation from which we are reborn.
One of the roles of the Spirit is to bring all things back to our remembrance, including the Record of Heaven; the returning of our spiritual memory is characterized in scripture as the "comprehension" of "light":
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.
(D&C 88:49) The Spirit of God, you see, is steadily inundating us with light ― it is all around us, continually ― we are surrounded by and bathed in this light that is gently beckoning us to arise and emerge from that "veil of unbelief" which presently darkens our minds.
The Spirit entices our spiritual minds to be renewed, which is to say, calibrated to resonate with the Mind of God (see Ephesians 4:23).
[Photo of Saturn taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft]
The Sign of Saturn
While the myth of Cronus (Saturn) devouring his own children seems bizarre and cruel to our modern sensibilities, we shouldn't be too hasty to judge ― for don't we also believe in a God who sacrificed His own Son?
Saturn was the father of Jupiter in mythology. The Romans told a story about Saturn, how he was an outcast and sent to a foreign land, where he found favor among the people and became their king.
Virgil recorded the way Saturn gathered the unruly and wild creatures "and gave them laws," ushering in an era of "perfect peace [as] he ruled the nations." (Virgil's Aeneid.) Saturn thus became a symbol of sovereignty, order and peace.
Interestingly, we see these same types and shadows reflected in the figure-type we've assigned the title of Melchizedek. Is it possible the sign of Saturn has some correlation to Melchizedek and his priesthood authority?
And now, Melchizedek was a priest of this order; therefore he obtained peace in Salem, and was called the Prince of peace.
And this Melchizedek, having thus established righteousness, was called the king of heaven by his people.
(JST Genesis 14:33, 36)
Should we wish to locate the place his people obtained in the heaven when his city was separated from the earth (see JST Gen. 14:34), perhaps we should keep an eye on Saturn.
It takes Saturn roughly 30 years to travel one round, passing through all the constellations of the Zodiac. Therefore, Saturn spends 2.5 to 3 years in each constellation's star field. Just so you know, there are only two planets mentioned in the scriptures: Venus (the Queen of Heaven) in Jeremiah 7:18 (and isn't it interesting that Venus is the "bright and morning star" that Christ compares himself to?); and Saturn, the King of Heaven, in Amos 5:26. In both places, the prophets rebuke the people for their pagan idol worship.
But I digress. My purpose is not to draw correlations between Christianity and its pagan predecessors, or to opine on the whereabouts of translated beings; I share these snippets to simply suggest we keep an open mind, and that there is a reason the angels are compared to stars.