Isn't that what marriage is? A conversion of our hearts, leaving behind our former flames for our one-true-love?
I had dated for several years before meeting my wife; I like to call it love at first sight (it was a blind date). When I saw her, there was something special about her; she took my breath away. My previous relationships had been like orange poppies, beautiful but brief; and my wife, a blood rose.
So it is with God. We're told in the New Testament that eternal life is to "know" God.
And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.
But wait. "Know" Him? Surely not in the "biblical sense" of the word, right? Right?
Umm. Let's look at the Greek: γινώσκωσιν (ginōskōsin).
A form of this same verb (to know) is used in Matthew Chapter 1 in relation to the virgin birth: "And [Joseph] knew her [Mary] not till she had brought forth her firstborn son" (Matt. 1:25).
It's time we sit down and have a Define-The-Relationship (DTR) with God.
But I am getting ahead of myself. This post isn't about the virgin birth or becoming the brides of Christ; it's about, "How is it even possible to KNOW God?"
And, more to the point, "Once we get to know God a little, why are the chances we'll wish to remain 'just friends' and not take our relationship any further?"
Prince Charming? Not so much
Becoming acquainted with God is one thing; but actually "knowing" Him? Just how close do we need to get for eternal life?
God's ways are foreign to us; they are higher than our own. It can be daunting, entering into a new culture (and often, learning a second language, the language of the Spirit).
Just to complicate matters, our significant-other summers in Kolob and doesn't know how to pick up, apparently, a cell phone. (You know what they say about long-distance relationships.) But before we go any further, we should ask ourselves the question, "Is wanting to be in a relationship with God even appropriate?"
After all, Bruce R. McConkie said:
"[Some people] devote themselves to gaining a special, personal relationship with Christ that is both improperand perilous.
"I know that some may be offended at the counsel that they should not strive for a special and personal relationship with Christ. It will seem to them as though I am speaking out against mother love, or Americanism, or the little red schoolhouse."
What can I say? On the one hand, the Book of Mormon prophets urge us to:
Come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation and the power of his redemption. Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him.
Oooookay. But on the other hand, Elder McConkie tells us, "Sure, come unto Christ, but don't get too close; He's Mr. Christ to you; stand behind the red rope; give Him some space."
How personal does God want to us to get? He seems to know everything about me; so does it go both ways?
Does He want us to know Him, down to His eye color and laugh lines and Social Security Number and birthdate? (You know, to protect against spiritual fraudsters who pretend to "know" Him but are actually imposters, like the Nigerian Princes who have been trying to reach us about our lapsed car insurance: "Hello, I am your ministering brother reaching out to check on your temple recommend renewal").
If we're going to err, do we err on the side of being too personal, or too impersonal?
In Doctrine and Covenants Section 93, it seems like the Lord wants us to "know" Him on a quite personal level.
I beheld his glory . . . [what is God's glory?] full of grace and truth . . . and I, John, saw that he received NOT of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace. . . and thus he was called the Son.
I give unto you these sayings that you may understand and know (!) how to worship, and know (!) what you worship.
(D&C 93:11-14, 19)
Without wanting to oversimplify the matter, I want to suggest that the only way to know God is to receive His grace.
That's it. That's all.
If I took a poll, most people would define "knowing" God by certain spiritual "milestones" (like the Second Comforter), but not me.
We know God through the grace He has given each of us, which fills our lives. And we continue to grow in grace until, at last, we will have received "of His fulness."
I previously mentioned 'windows' (the "windows of heaven") that go both ways; we exchange "grace for grace" with those on the other side of the veil.
"The glory of God is reciprocal. A seal, in other words, symbolizes the opening of a space (kingdom) for two (or more) things to be united; but the sealing occurs only if those two (or more) things share in each other's grace (light and truth); this is the Glory of God. This is how we become "one" with each other and Him.
"Unless, of course, we're talking about the flip-side of the sealing power, which is the power to "loose" on earth and in heaven; that is, to sever the link between two (or more) things so that they are "cut-off" from each other ─ which means they cannot share grace between them."
The Paradox of Glory
Now we encounter one of the thorniest paradoxes of all, the problem of God's glory.
'Knowing' God requires us to partake of His glory; but at the same time His glory prevents uncleanness from entering His presence. Sort of a chicken and egg problem.
"Tim," someone says, "The glory of God is wonderful! How can you say anything negative about it?"
Well, the glory of God is like gravity; wonderful, yes, and a necessary life-giving force ─ until you fall off a 10 story building.
You see, gravity keeps things united together in orbit in their orderly movements; but it can also prevent two planets from coming closer to each other (keeps them apart).
Have you ever wondered why God doesn't let anything "unclean" enter into His presence? I mean, what's the use of all that glory if it's just gonna keep your children away from you?
Couldn't God set aside His glory for a second in order to give us telestial punks a hug, without us catching on fire like Cornflakes doused in kerosene in the brightness of His coming?
Oh wait; that IS exactly what Christ did when He was born on earth as a babe in Bethlehem.
What is Grace?
How does God's "grace" solve the problem? How does grace relate to glory, and uncleanness?
Whenever someone gives a talk in Church on grace, they quote the Bible Dictionary. (In case you weren't aware, Robert J. Matthews assembled the LDS Bible Dictionary by obtaining copyright permission to use as its backbone the bible dictionary published by the Cambridge University Press. The scripture committee then altered the entries to give it an LDS-flavor, like adding Tabasco Sauce to our eschatological eggs.)
"Grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts."
That answer it for us? So now we know grace is "divine help." Good, good. And God's grace is imparted in and through His Son, Jesus Christ. Excellent, excellent. Bible Dictionary saves the day again!
Well, except for one thing: no one really knows, still, how grace works.
The Garden of Gethsemane
Let's see if we can learn something about grace from the Garden of Gethsemane. How was grace manifested in the garden? How was grace given, and how was it received?
To get an insider-view, let's look at Gethsemane through Christ's eyes.
In the garden, Jesus opened Himself and "made HIS soul an offering" (Isaiah 53:10).
If that sounds familiar, it should: remember what we read earlier from the Book of Mormon?
Come unto Christ and offer YOUR whole souls as an offering unto him.
Waaaait a minute. Just who is offering their souls, exactly? Christ or us?
What if Gethsemane is where Christ offered His soul and finished his "preparations unto the children of men" (D&C 19:19), but until we offer Him our souls (two-for-one deal), it is not complete?
"Hold on, Tim," someone says. "I wasn't in the garden. How could our souls join as one?"
Really? We weren't there? There, where our sins were, when Jesus suffered for them? Had we made other plans, sending our sins ahead with our regrets?
Christ may have walked the winepress alone, but He wasn't alone: there were also the olives and grapes.
So the thing I want us to focus on is that for the atonement to be infinite and eternal, it needed two souls in the offering for it to be efficacious. For Amulek taught, if we do not open our souls to Christ, then it is "as though there had been no redemption made" (Alma 11:41).
When Christ made His soul an offering, we stared into eternity and got a good look. What did we see? What did we find as we peered into the very heart of God, so that we might "see the travail of HIS soul and be satisfied" (Isaiah 53:11).
Put yourself in Christ's shoes: how vulnerable was He? How much of Himself did He share with us? Did He hide any part of Himself from us?
This brings us to grace. For a moment, what if we defined grace as the giving-of-one's-soul-to-another?
When we fail to receive what Christ has offered (and to return it in kind, albeit to a lesser degree) ─ standing there in the garden with Him, while He says to His seed: "I want to share everything I am, everything I have, everything I dream about, and desire, with you. Are you interested? Will you be Mine? Will you spend the rest of eternity with Me?" and gets on one knee, and falls on His face . . . what happens if we reject Him?
Can there be any healthy relationship when one of the parties offers more than the other one is "willing to receive" (D&C 88:32)?
No wonder when Christ appeared to the Nephites He told them to offer up "a broken heart and contrite spirit" (3 Nephi 9:20).
After all, we broke His.
Sometimes when people fall in love, they write love songs and poetry to their beloved.
Here is one such song (psalm); look carefully at the imagery:
O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is;
Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee.
My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips.
No one can read that without feeling its pathos. If you've ever been in love and broke up with other person, then you know what it means to be broken-hearted; you know the agony of unrequited love.
Everywhere you turn, you are reminded of the one who rejected you, and it brings fresh pain.
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hand.
Here's the point: Christ's gift of grace is an invitation to step into Gethsemane with Him; He gave us His heart; will we harden ours?
A New Interpretation. I want to suggest that this is the "stone" cut out of the mountain without hands, smiting the kingdoms of this world to smithereens: it was, and is, His heart.
The heart of God, like the stone, was "cut"; Daniel's prophecy was a prophecy of God's love, which shall roll forth and fill the whole earth.
It cannot be stopped.
Where I Attempt to Re-Write the Bible Dictionary
(1) To know God one must become God. For how can one "know" something one is not?
(2) The way we become like God is by receiving His grace. What is grace? Grace is the freely-given bestowal of a portion of one's glory upon another person.
(3) But the gift of grace is not like giving a gift on Christmas morning. Since grace is an aspect of one's self-essence (glory), it cannot be (1) purchased, (2) taken by force, or (3) stolen (sorry Lucifer). Giving it exacts a toll. In other words, giving grace is more like donating a kidney to a sick child than giving a kid a bicycle.
(4) But there's a catch; God is not overbearing; His bestowal of grace is commensurate with our ability to receive and bear it (else we would be "consumed" and perish).
(5) The one who gives grace is called the "Father" (for what is a Father but He who imparts of His Self (knowledge, light and truth) to His child?) The one who receives grace is called the "Son" in scriptures (see D&C 93:13-14).
(6) You might think the gift of grace is something everybody would want, but not so. Most often we "hide" from God's grace (like Adam and Eve who searched for fig leaves to cover their nakedness with aprons of legalism rather than to be vulnerable (in a relationship) with God).
(7) God will always initiate and renew His offer of grace to us, again and again, worlds without end, regardless of how many times we reject Him, seeking a relationship with us (although these periods may be temporarily suspended if one is "cut-off").
(8) Grace is meant to create a bond (sealing) between beings; the one who receives also gives; and the one who gives also receives. Thus the Son is added upon, and the Father's glory is increased.
(9) Receiving all God is and has ― to know Him ― does not occur all at once, but requires an exchange of ever-greater portions of grace until the two parties achieve parity (equality) (share in a fulness of each other's grace). Once there is parity between beings, then they may "see as we are seen, and know as we are known" (D&C 76:94).
The Tricky Part
Now the tricky part: two people baring their souls to one another and becoming "one" sounds great; but what's it all for?
(10) At a certain level, the exchange of grace between divine beings forms a celestial circuit or conduit (Godhead) which attracts (draws) other intelligences into their orbit (union), thereby increasing Their glory (light and truth).
For intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; wisdom receiveth wisdom; truth embraceth truth; virtue loveth virtue; light leaveth unto light.
(11) To be clear, the self-existent principle of intelligence (light and truth) means that intelligence cannot be created but only aggregated.
(12) So if God cannot create intelligence ex nihilo, how did He become "more intelligent than they all?" How does His glory increase if intelligence cannot be created? To put it another way, since God did not create the intelligence of man, it may be asked, how came man to be His Son?
"Wanna grab an ice cream sometime?"
Looking around, it is sort of surprising how many of us reject God (for what is sin, but to alienate ourselves from Him?).
Maybe it's because we aren't attracted to God; after all, He doesn't satisfy our carnal, sensual, and devilish minds.
I think most of us prefer Satan as a suitor, with all his trappings. He's well-spoken, good-looking, and wealthy; he offers us security (which may explain why our churches are the way they are).
But what does God have to offer? Sure, He's faithful; but imagine if a person today lived the lifestyle of Jesus of Nazareth; would you want to go on a second date with them?
Me: "Umm. You're unemployed?"
Him: "No, I work for my Father."
Me: "Sure, sure. Does that pay well?"
Him: "Not in money, no."
Me: "If this gets serious, I need a stable home to raise children in."
Him: "I mostly couch-surf at my friends' places; foxes have holes and birds have nests."
Me: "Right, right. So, where do you see yourselves in five years?"
Him: "Ascended; I'm not long for this world."
Me: "Tell me you have good life insurance."
Him: "In a manner of speaking."
You see, the devil has far better prospects. However, Christ offers us something the devil can't: love.
The problem is that Christ's love is pure; we prefer our love mixed with a little flattery and make-up.
Christ's love is a firehose when we're holding a squirt gun. It's like we accepted a date to the Soda Shoppe because we just wanted an ice cream, not a marriage proposal.
Here's the point: As long as we want ice cream, and that's all we want, God is willing to take us out for ice cream, ad nauseum. He's willing to engage with us on whatever level we desire. He won't ever pressure us beyond what we're willing to receive (the law of reciprocity).
And you know what? I think He actually appreciates those dates at the Soda Shoppe, sitting with us as we nibble on mint chocolate chip for half an hour on Sundays, if that's all we're ready for.
But I believe He wants more; if I may be so bold, I think the Lord is ready to take our relationship to the next level.