Sometimes we think of "equality" like the salad bar at a buffet: something good for us, sure, but not nearly as tasty as the lasagna and fried chicken. And so we skip the salad for the main course.
But what if equality wasthe main course? Could it be that equality is not a nice-to-have "characteristic" of Zion, but is actually the thing that brings it about?
1. We know Zion is the Pure in Heart (D&C 97:21).
2. What if the way we become "pure in heart" is by learning to become "one" or equal with each other? Isn't that the education God sent us to earth to learn? We find ourselves stuffed in a sandbox filled with brutes and bullies and bosses -- and yet somehow we are supposed to learn how to become "one" with them by following Christ.
3. And what if the reason we choose to become equal is because we love each other?
4. Therefore, love leads to equality, and equality leads to purity of heart, and purity of heart leads to Zion.
Which of the following is more accurate:
A. Equality emerges from Zion; -or- B. Zion emerges from equality.
Two Schools of Belief
If you answered (A), then you probably believe in the "authority-paradigm" of Zion.
If you answered (B), then I would guess you believe in the "love-paradigm" of Zion.
Let's look first at the "authority paradigm of Zion." Those who view Zion as a construct of authority may hold the following beliefs:
1. Zion will be a community organized by leaders. It will be shaped by the vision of those serving at the top, who will tell the rest of us what we need to do in order to be "one."
2. Leaders will tell us when it is time to gather to Zion.
3. If we are deemed worthy by our leaders to gather to Zion, then they will assign us responsibilities and callings to fulfill in Zion (think of how a ward operates).
4. In Zion, the presiding authorities will be in charge and will manage the affairs of Zion (think of how the church operates).
5. Access to Zion's temple, and to the community resources gathered in the storehouse, will be administered by the leaders.
6. There will necessarily be a difference in status between people according to their rank or office, with those at the top having greater access to information, resources, and policy-making.
7. Those who value authority may view Zion as becoming "one" through leadership enforcing a set of standards which all must obey (conformity).
Does this vision of Zion sound familiar? It essentially replicates the world in which we now live, or a Telestial Kingdom.
But if Zion is simply The Church Version 2.0, then something is amiss. How does this match the vision of Zion we find in scripture?
Now let's look at the "love paradigm of Zion." Those who view Zion as a construct of love may hold the following beliefs:
1. Zion will be a community organized by those who love each other as Christ loves us.
2. This pure love will bring those desiring to live Christ's law together into fellowship, in the bands of friendship and truth, wherein they esteem each other as themselves. They become equals.
3. In Zion everyone will improve upon and apply the gifts and talents that God has given them to bless others as they are inspired by the Holy Ghost, freely imparting of the heavenly gift instead of quenching the Spirit.
4. All will be esteemed as brothers and sisters who govern themselves in love and equity.
5. Decisions are made selflessly by common consent, without envy or judgment. No one is forced or compelled. Everyone respects each other's agency.
6. Freely we have received and freely we share, both the light and knowledge we have gained, and our resources.
7. Those who value love may view Zion as becoming "one" through freedom and equality, cherishing the divine individuality in each person as all have an eye single to God's glory.
Does this sound like Christ's family? Which version of Zion would be more appealing to live in?
Which people would Christ prefer to dwell among?
Let's look at love in two different ways:
First, there is the feeling of benevolence and magnanimity we feel for all humankind. This is the love that shouts, "Peace on earth, good will towards men!"
It is the love we hear pronounced from the pulpit when someone says, "I love you all." It is the sympathy I feel at the grocery store when I see somebody bagging corn on the cob and their plastic bag breaks. Let's call this kind of love "General Love."
Second, there is a love that is shared with another person. This love is not general but specific. Our relationship with a friend, or child, or spouse, is something that doesn't exist elsewhere, but inheres to the bond between those in the relationship, who become precious to each other. Let's call this kind of love "Unique Love."
Differences Between General and Unique Love
The reason this is important is because General Love does not require anybody else to reciprocate. General Love is dispositional. It is a characteristic whereby we possess a universal, beautiful and one-sided love towards everyone, like the warmth of sunlight shed abroad upon our skin.
When someone says "I love you" with General Love, what they are really saying is, "I choose to be loving."
But Unique Love is different. I am not talking about romantic love (please don't get me started). If you are my beloved friend and you die, I cannot replace you. Sure, I can make other friends. And I can have a different Unique Love with each of them. But the Unique Love we shared is singular. It is a creation of our memories, our experiences, our personalities, our hopes, our time, and our selves.
In a universe of infinite diversity and possibility, the reality of our Unique Love is truly miraculous. It is a creation that only exists as a result of us loving each other.
Does God Love Us Generally or Uniquely?
God's disposition and nature is love. He desires the well-being of all his creatures and children. But more importantly, He also loves us Uniquely.
But why would God even bother to love us personally; after all, He has children without number, so why do we individually matter to Him? Does He really need me?
I can picture myself in the next life, as Christ takes me by the elbow and gives me an orientation of our heavenly home and says, “I would like you to be near me. I had my angels build you a mansion—this is all yours, because I love you.”
"Wow," I answer, surveying the celestial amenities, “Your angels did a great job. This is some widescreen TV—I can see all eternity on it!” And then I can imagine myself getting a pit in my stomach, wondering, “Wait a minute . . . . What did I ever do to deserve all this?”
Are we trying to earn God’s love? Do we want God to love us because we get good grades, bake brownies for our neighbor, and always pick up Fido's poo?
But how gauche would it be if, when we pass though the pearly gates, we took a bow?
As C.S. Lewis pointed out, “No sooner do we believe that God loves us than there is an impulse to believe that he does so, not because he is Love, but because we are intrinsically lovable. Deep beneath remains some lingering idea of our own, our very own, attractiveness.” (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, London: Harcourt Brace & Co, 1960, 130-131)
When it comes to God’s love, do we want to take credit for it? "Love me because I am smart; because I have green eyes; because I make a mean linguine; because I bought you flowers; because I never jaywalked; because in third grade I apologized to Mrs. Miller for spilling her Coke on the students' homework . . ."
Does God mete out love based upon our performance?
Why Does God Love Us? At the root of our spiritual insecurity, I think we have to wonder, "Why does God love sinners? Why would He love us? Why?"
I'd like to propose a way of understanding theosis. 1. God is love; it is his nature. But love cannot exist in a vacuum. He needs someone to love. There can be no Unique Love without others to share it with.
2. God's creative power is intended to bring other beings, or intelligences, into a loving relationship with him. He seeks our immortality and eternal life, which is to say He wants us to be "one" with Him in this kind of Unique relationship.
3. There are at least three essential elements necessary for us to share divine love, or in other words, to become "one" with the Father and joint heirs with Christ in a celestial union:
A. Freedom. Persons must freely choose to love the other without compulsion or duress. Belonging to the relationship is completely voluntary. Love can only exist in an environment of liberty. Controlling others to preserve the relationship is like "curing the disease by killing the patient." When we force someone into a relationship against their will we call it "kidnapping."
B.Individuality. God's creative power invariably produces diversity. If everyone had one "mind," like the Borg on Star Trek, or the kind of "hive mind" that science fiction loves, then there would be no discovery of, or delight in, or space to love the "other." There must always be someone else to love or we would just end up loving ourselves.
C. Equality. Yes, really! We might love our dog, but a dog is not our equal, so the nature of our love is different than that shared with a more intelligent being (like our husbands . . . in some cases). While the Father loves us, as our intelligence (light and truth, or glory) increases, so does our ability to participate more fully in this relationship of Unique Love that God welcomes us into.
4. Therefore, receiving of God's "fullness" is related to how much we share His nature and become like Him. The end goal is to be made "equal in power, and in might, and dominion" (D&C 76:95).
5. In our present condition, we have to overcome those obstacles that prevent our entering into the kind of loving relationship that God desires. For example, I have not progressed to the point where I can perceive, reciprocate and dwell in the fullness of the Father's love. Yet. That is what we are here to learn.
6. How do we overcome these obstacles? Grace! Grace! And more grace! We have to grow by receiving grace for grace, and by continuing from grace to grace.
7. God's grace is what allows love to ripen as we freely choose Him over sin. Sin is whatever prevents us from being one, or equal, with Him and with each other.
8. As we change our desire for individual status at the expense of others, and instead seek to lift our brothers and sisters up at our own expense, we learn that the ultimate expression of love is to sacrifice our status, or what we deserve, on behalf of others who are less intelligent.
Is it blasphemy to think that God wants us share a Unique Love by becoming "one" with Him? Does that mean He wants us to be "equal" with Him?
Isn't this what got Jesus into hot water with the Jews?
I and my Father are one. Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him.
Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me?
The Jews answered him, saying, For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.
Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?
I want everyone to look carefully at how all these puzzle pieces come together in the Intercessory Prayer:
That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them [think: grace] that they may be one, even as we are one:
I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.
Zion follows this pattern of loving, where we find freedom; where we preserve individuality; and where we choose equality.
Perfect In One
I want to focus on one little phrase: "perfect in one" (John 17:23).
The Lord attests that we are "made perfect in one." What does that mean? Does this mean we can only be perfect when we become one? With Them? With each other?
I want to suggest that God could not be perfect by Himself, alone. The perfection and godliness we seek is found only in a divine union. The Unique Love among the Godhead is essential to their nature.
Did Jesus show us how to become "perfect in one?" This might help:
And I, John, bear record that I beheld his glory, as the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, even the Spirit of truth, which came and dwelt in the flesh, and dwelt among us.
And I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace;
And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness;
And thus he was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first.
And I, John, bear record, and lo, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Ghost descended upon him in the form of a dove, and sat upon him, and there came a voice out of heaven saying: This is my beloved Son.
And I, John, bear record that he received a fulness of the glory of the Father;
And he received all power, both in heaven and on earth, and the glory of the Father was with him, for he dwelt in him.
It seems like Jesus spent a lot of time trying to make his point about equality. One of my favorite parables is the parable of the laborers, which really hit the nail on the head.
For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard.
And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way.
Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise.
And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle?
They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.
So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first.
And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny.
But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny.
And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house,
Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.
But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?
Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.
Spoiler Alert! Jesus means what he said. He actually wants to make us all equal.
I sense that we are stuck in the whale's belly, like Jonah.
I feel like we are just "hanging around" waiting for something to happen. For someone else to "do something."
Are we fleeing the call to equality?
Are we dreading bringing grace to those wicked Ninevites?
Are we running away from God because we prefer the shade of status over the beating sun of common consent?
Well, what happened to Jonah's gourd? When faced with the searing heat of God's light, the gourd (like the status and inequality we cling to) withered away.
God has called us. He has named us His stewards of grace. We are summoned to labor in the vineyard as "one." As equals. As brothers and sisters. And when we do, we shall witness the sun rise upon a new heaven and a new earth.