Sorry for my prolonged absence as I recovered from surgery.
Thank you for your prayers, faith, and well-wishes. I am more grateful than you'll ever know.
My surgery went well. When they wheeled me into the operating room my first thought was, "Why are there so many people?" I learned afterwards that the doctors had invited their colleagues to witness this "once in a lifetime" procedure.
(Had I brought popcorn, I might have charged admission.)
My dear wife sat by my side as I awoke from the anesthesia, offering me the straw to a Diet Coke (which brought tears to my eyes: that is true love).
I've been drinking milkshakes and eating pudding on a "liquid diet." My wife and I disagree on what constitutes a "liquid." After all, basic chemistry taught me that all solids turn into liquid if you heat them hot enough ― like meatloaf.
As I have been healing at home during my sick leave, sitting on the back patio and watching the lawn grow as tall as a teenage boy's mullet (I can't mow the grass because the doctors proscribed any physical activity), admiring the hummingbirds circling our Roses of Sharon with effortless grace, I have been pondering what I want to do with my new lease on life.
With my head screwed back on, what now?
The Truth About Love
I want to present an idea and maybe (who knows) a slightly different way of viewing the atonement (please leave a comment on what ideas came to you after you've read this.)
Truth is not absolute in the sense that truth itself changes when, and if, the nature of reality changes (when "what is" becomes different from "what is now").
If we view truth from a static perspective, we could pretend to freeze-in-place all the truths pertaining to a Celestial, Terrestial, and Telestial orders ― and then we could catalogue them and create a concordance of all the truths and where they belong.
And carrying our Truth Textbooks like good students on a field trip, we could ascend each order (or "kingdom") (what I am calling "reality"), taking notes in our books to create a Master Taxonomy of Truth.
We'll see that what is true in one kingdom does not always hold for another.
For example, the reality of the Celestial Kingdom is to have a "fulness of the Father" but in the Terrestial Kingdom they "receive of the presence of the Son, but not of the fulness of the Father" (D&C 76:77).
See? Different realities. Separate truths.
But, as the inquisitive teacher's pets we are, we'll go the extra mile at the end of our books and pause, asking the million-dollar question:
Are there truths above the Celestial?
How Well Do We Know the Celestial Kingdom?
The problem we face, of course, is what happens when we reach the ceiling?
Can the truths of the Celestial Kingdom ever change?
Do we harbor the notion that the Celestial Kingdom is always the same, and always will be? Where nothing ever changes, worlds without end?
Is the Celestial Kingdom a tundra of frozen, unthawing truths?
I mean, sure, from our vantage point here in the bowels of hell (pardon me, I meant to say "telestial kingdom"), where Satan dances a merry polka nightly on the Lawrence this-world-is-a-Wreck Show, the truths of the celestial kingdom may appear unchanging the way something very far away appears to not move even though it is rotating 1,000 mph . . .
. . . but. But, those who inherit the Celestial Kingdom will receive a "white stone"
whereby things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms will be made known.
You might say, "Well, maybe there are kingdoms above the celestial."
Okay, sure. But could we read this verse instead to mean that the Celestial Kingdom itself becomes elevated to a "higher order" as its inhabitants progress?
Can even celestial truth be dynamic?
Now the SUPER Tricky Part:
Good. You're still here. Here's the important part:
This is why Christ is called the Way, the Truth, and the Life― because He was not content to let "what is" remain the same. He changed truth by creating a new reality.
While we read that God is unchanging, we also know that the Father decided to change (elevate) (exalt) the nature of what "was" for you and me by condescending to earth in order to bring about a reality that could not exist but for His marvelous sacrifice.
In other words, Christ is the Truth because the kingdom we inhabit ("what is") did not, and could not exist, without His unique creative work.
Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ.
This we call the Good News.
From the midst of chaotic element, the Father dreamt a dream in which we could progress and experience joy with Him, in Him.
But there was no path for it, no way for it.
Luckily, He had a Plan.
And there is nothing that the Lord thy God shall take in his heart to do but what he will do it.
Christ is called the Creator of heaven and earth because the truth we experience is the express creation of our Lord and Savior.
He authored our truth, our salvation, through His faith.
He not only showed us a more excellent way, but He created a reality in which we were capable of walking it.
I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
In the King Follett Discourse, Joseph Smith said:
"In the beginning, the head of the Gods called a council of the Gods; and they came together and concocted a plan to create the world and people it. When we begin to learn this way, we begin to learn the only true God, and what kind of being we have got to worship."
The reason this is important is because many of us have an idea that Christ was simply replaying a role as in previous cycles of creation, following the same predictable script, and that it was all inevitable.
Apply. Rinse. Repeat.
But if we think that Christ is plug-and-play, then we haven't yet glimpsed the glory of His truly unique Intelligence.
He did, and is, and will always be, creating a new heaven, and a new earth for his Children.
Now Here's the Really, Really Tricky Part:
While it is true, as Joseph Smith taught, that our intelligences are co-eternal with God, we lacked the godlike ability to act.
We lacked a fulness of agency in our limited spiritual state.
In order to become co-creators with the Father and the Son, through which we experience a fulness of joy, we required tabernacles.
And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon.
(2 Nephi 2:13)
Enter Satan, who was brilliant.
(I don't think he gets enough credit.)
All action (creation) requires faith (will) and the ability to act (agency).
Now, Satan was an angel in authority in the presence of God. He had faith, too. He had a plan.
Not a bad plan, actually.
In the Lectures on Faith, Lecture 1, we read this:
Faith is the assurance which men have of the existence of things which they have not seen; and the principle of action in all intelligent beings.
Just like God, Lucifer works by faith. In this instance, Lucifer used his agency (intelligence) to imagine a creation, a world, that had never been before.
He knew that creation is never static; he had beheld God instantiating realities that were new.
Satan went to work. He was a good student. He believed he could create a reality in which none would be lost.
Had it not been for the principle of faith the worlds would never have been framed.
Who cannot see, that if God framed the worlds by faith, that it is by faith that he exercises power over them?
Satan's "truth" was to save all of us. Can anyone fault him for that?
Lucifer made it sound plausible. A third-part of the hosts of heaven were willing to go along with his plan, unable to discern the subtlety of the problem.
So why did Lucifer get in trouble? Why was his faith faulty? Why was he unable to create a reality in which we were all saved?
Why was his plan doomed to fail?
A New Reality of Love
We know that "all truth is independent" (D&C 93:30).
But love is never independent.
Love is always relational.
Christ created a reality for us in which He loved the Father perfectly, purely. He became a Son so that love might flourish and thrive through their Union.
Christ declared the purpose of his mission and condescension:
But that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do.
The truth of the gospel is a product (creation) of Their relationship. It is glorious.
Satan, too, desired to be a son.
That Satan, whom thou hast commanded in the name of mine Only Begotten, is the same which was from the beginning, and he came before me, saying—Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son . . .
So far so good. This is, in fact, the appropriate response. So where did it fly off the rails for Lucifer?
. . . and I will redeem all mankind . . .
Who doesn't like the sound of that? Redemption was Christ's mission, after all.
. . . that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor.
Isaiah gives an interesting glimpse at this celestial drama in his proverb against the king of Babylon (fittingly):
How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!
For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.
I can see Lucifer standing up in Stake Conference: "I bring you the love of the Heavenly Presidency" ― like a high councilor who tells us how much the Stake Presidency loves us.
What the high councilor means is, "The members of the Stake Presidency are men of good will, and so you have their good will."
But if the Stake President doesn't know me personally, then an unindividualized benevolence is not the same as loving me.
Because how can we love someone we do not know?
Christ knows us because he created us. That means he can really love us.
For it is I that hath created them; and it is I that granteth unto him that believeth unto the end a place at my right hand.
For behold, in my name are they called; and if they know me they shall come forth, and shall have a place eternally at my right hand.
So, the only way to know whether we love Christ or not is to get to know him, quirks and all.
Being a Christian of "good will" does not mean we love the Man. The test is whether we love him enough to be in a relationship.
If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.
God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.
(1 John 4:12, 16)
He's already chosen us. Now we get to choose him.
Wait, before you go, just one more thing . . .
What Does it Mean to "Hope in Christ?"
We've talked about faith and love, but what about hope?
Like a middle child, hope is often neglected between its sisters.
And what is it that ye shall hope for?
Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise.
Let us hope in Christ that we may, together, create a brighter reality with Him as our Evening and Morning Star.