Sunday, February 21, 2010

What Is Our Message?

Has anyone ever asked you point blank “what do you believe”? It can be a very halting question. One reason for this is that it is so personal. When people ask me “what do Mormon’s believe?” there is at least a degree of separation. I find that sometimes people are more comfortable talking about what their church believes and what they were raised to believe. But when you are the center of attention and asked what you believe that can be a little scary. It is important to look within and know how to answer: “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).

What does it actually mean to believe? A modern definition of the word is “to have confidence in the truth, the existence, or the reliability of something, although without absolute proof that one is right in doing so.” This is an acceptable definition though I don’t find it satisfactory. The reason I don’t find it satisfying is because it doesn’t really describe my personal experience with belief. Is my belief a confidence in truth? Sure, but is that it? No, I feel there is more to it than that. The English verb “believe” was translated in the Bible from the Hebrew “munah” and the Greek “pistuo”. These Hebrew and Greek words mean something more than the modern English definition. But before the sixteenth century the verb “believe” had a slightly different meaning which more closely matched the Hebrew and Greek concepts.

“Modern German usage of ‘belieben’ still means ‘to cherish’, or ‘to hold dear,’ and the modern German term for faith (Glaube) can be traced back to common roots with a family of Old English words ‘leof’, ‘liof’ (dear, beloved) that formed the verb ‘geleofan’, ‘gelafen’, ‘geliefen’, ‘to hold dear, to love, to consider valuable or lovely’; this parallels the Old High German ‘gilouban’, which has the same meanings. This word developed into ‘glauben’ (to have faith).” [1]

The original meaning of our verb “believe” might be better stated “belove”. Your belief is what you value. The Hebrew and Greek concepts of faith and belief were not of confidence in the truth of God’s existence, that was taken as a given. Rather faith or belief in God is a dedication to God. That Latin word “credo” translated “I believe” can be broken down into two components: first, “cor” or “cordia” meaning “heart”; second, “do” meaning “put, place, set” also “give”. So in Latin, saying “I believe...” is another way of saying “I set more heart upon...”

What do I believe? I believe in atonement with God. This is the best way I can express in English the core of my belief. This requires some explanation as well. To “atone” is usually understood to mean “to make amends”, but this is not a satisfactory definition. You can make amends for damage you cause to someone’s car in an accident and never enter into a relationship with that person. You may not even like that person. That is not atonement. To atone is to make “at one”. It is a neologism created by William Tyndale, but it was a brilliant creation. Atonement is a complete reconciliation, unification of heart, mind, and will.

I understand the whole of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. In the Book of Mormon when Christ came to the Nephites and Lamanites he gave a sort of definition of his gospel: “this is the gospel which I have given unto you—that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me. And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil—And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works... Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day. Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel...” (3 Nephi 27:13-21) Notice here how Christ says that he draw all men unto him and invites all to come unto him. There is an effort on both ends to be brought into unity, atonement. “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:63)

When in mortality Jesus taught his disciples that they should “abide” in him. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman... Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” (John 15:1-7) I love this image and find it to be one of the most moving explanations of unity and atonement in all scripture. Jesus here describes an intimate and organic connection of two living entities actually existing and living as one organism. When we are brought into unity with Christ we are able to bring forth good fruit because we are part of him. Alma described this unity in a way that our very image and appearance is transformed to reflect the image of Christ (Alma 5:14,19).

This transformation must be very powerful because as mortal beings we are much different than divine beings now. We know we are of the same kind as God, even after the same image. But there is still a great difference. After, Moses saw God in the mountain he was left to his own strength and was completely famished. He reflected within himself saying, “Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.” (Moses 1:10) Yet, a little while later he was shown a glorious vision of the universe and the history of this world and asked for what purpose they were created. God responded saying “this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39) Just after learning of the nothingness of man, it was revealed to him that the plan of God was to grant man immortality and eternal life—to transform this mortal man that can hardly withstand the presence of God into a new creature like unto God himself.

The essential question to ask is the same question Enos had: “how is it done?” (Enos 1:7) The answer is the same as it was for him—through faith in Jesus Christ (Enos 1:8). “...Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself...” (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)

This is, according to my understanding, the meat and core of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God has come after us and sought after us because of his desire to dwell in unity with us. Though we were separate from him by our imperfect nature, sin, weakness, frailty, and death, the Atonement of Jesus Christ brings us together, to be “at one” with God. This is our message: at-one-ment with God through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.


[1] Fowler, James. Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning. Harper Collins. 1981. p. 12

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Body: Sacred Or Profane?

One of the early Christian sects, the Gnostics, believed that the human body was evil. They even saw the human body as a prison for the soul and that salvation consisted, in part, of escaping the confines of this mortal shell. The pleasures of mortality were especially reprehensible and those who indulged in the pleasures of this world could find their souls continually imprisoned even after death, never to return to God. The Gnostics were not alone in their negative views of the human body, nor are these ideas confined to ancient times. It is quite common today for people to have negative views of the body and these sentiments are not exclusively from religion. The Buddhist concept of the body doesn’t malign the body per se but sees the escape from samsara, the cycle of birth and rebirth, as the ultimate goal. This escape is Nirvana. In the Pali language “Nibbana” means “blowing out”, that is to say a blowing out of the fires of greed and hatred. Here also, is the ultimate goal of escape from the body.

In the Bible and in Christian discourse, the flesh, the body is sometimes synonymous with corruption. Here are some examples:

“With the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” (Romans 7:25)

“That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.” (Romans 8:4-5)

“So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8)

“Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.” (1 Corinthians 15:50)

It can be seen from these scriptures why Christians have developed a negative view of the body, or “the flesh”. But is the body really what is corrupt? What are we to do with the body? How should we view it?

Joseph Smith taught a very different doctrine about the body. He said: “We came to this earth that we might have a body and present it pure before God in the celestial kingdom. The great principle of happiness consists in having a body. The devil has no body, and herein is his punishment.” [1] Historian and biographer Richard Bushman said: “Joseph had little sense of the flesh being base. In contrast to conventional theologies, Joseph saw embodiment as a glorious aspect of human existence.” [2] Furthermore, Joseph Smith understood the salvation of the soul to consist of saving both the spirit and the body. “The perfection Joseph sought was physical as much as spiritual. The September priesthood revelation [Doctrine and Covenants 84] had said priesthood holders would be “sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies... The underlying idea of the ‘Word of Wisdom’ was not to escape the physical, as hermetic and mystical philosophies taught, but to preserve and purify the flesh. Joseph’s religion made the body essential to human fulfillment and godliness. The exaltation revelations had told the Saints that ‘the spirit and the body is the soul of man,’ and only when joined eternally could a person receive ‘a fulness of joy.’ ‘When separated, man c[a]nnot receive a fulness of joy.” Joseph exalted the body rather than seeking to free the spirit from the flesh. Dead souls considered ‘the long absence’ of their spirits from their bodies ‘to be a bondage.’ The highest reward for a worthy spirit, the ‘Olive Leaf’ [Doctrine and Covenants 88] had said, was to receive a ‘natural body.’ [3]

Joseph not only taught that the body is something good and holy but he also taught that God the Father has a body. “That which is without body, parts and passions is nothing. There is no other God in heaven but that God who has flesh and bones (John 5:26). As the Father hath life in himself, even so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself. God the Father took life unto himself precisely as Jesus did.” [1] Later, in the now-canonized Doctrine and Covenants verse he taught: “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us.” (Doctrine and Covenants 130:22)

On August 8, 1901 B.H. Roberts delivered a lecture before the conference of the Mutual Improvement Associations of the Salt Lake Stake of Zion. The title of his lecture was “The ‘Mormon’ Doctrine of Deity. In his lecture he stated:

“I take it that we may classify under three heads the complaints here made against us with reference to the doctrine of Deity.

“First, we believe that God is a being with a body in form like man’s; that he possesses body, parts and passions; that in a word, God is an exalted, perfected man.

“Second, we believe in a plurality of Gods.

“Third, we believe that somewhere and some time in the ages to come, through development, through enlargement, through purification until perfection is attained, man at last, may become like God—a God.” [4]

A reply was published in the Improvement Era by Reverend C. Van der Donckt, of the Catholic Church, Pocatello, Idaho. In his response, Van der Donckt presented an extensive treatment of each of the points Roberts had taught in his lecture. Van der Donckt challenged Roberts in both scripture and philosophy. His philosophical arguments against God’s corporeality were particularly intriguing.

“The ‘Mormons’ admit that God existed from all eternity; consequently, there was no time at which God did not exist. Therefore, the Eternal Being, or God, must be simple.

“A compound is, at least by nature, posterior to its component parts. If God is a compound, he is posterior to his component parts. Therefore, he would not be eternal; therefore, not God...

“Fancy a clock, an engine, a shoe, or any composite being. The parts must exist before the whole. Then to have the compound, some one or something must do the compounding, or put the ingredients or elements together. Who then did compound the Eternal?” [5]

“Several finite things cannot produce an infinite or an illimitable, as there would always be a first and a last... If one is infinite, nothing can be added to it. Finite parts could not belong to the infinite essence, else they would communicate limitations to God. Therefore, the Infinite Being is not composite, but simple or spiritual. Therefore, he is not, nor ever was, a man, who is a composite being.” [6]

To put what Van der Donckt is saying another way—if God has a body, that body is composed of many parts. For example, the human body contains approximately 50 trillion cells—it is far from simple. Even the individual cells of the body are complex constructions of many atoms into biomolecules of high molecular weight. If God’s body is similarly formed of multiple parts how can he be eternal or infinite, being himself preceded by the elements of which he is composed?

Roberts responded as follows:

“Mr. Van der Donckt himself says: 'Something is limited not because it is (i.e. exists): but because it is this or that; for instance, a stone, a plant, a man'—or a person, I suggest. For if God has personality, he is a person, a something, and hence limited,.. as he must be when conceived of as this or that, as a person for instance, then of course not infinite being; and thus my friend’s doctrine of God’s 'simplicity' is destroyed the moment he ascribes personality to Deity.” [7]

Roberts’ point here seems to be that if you ascribe any characteristic or description about God then you limit him as an infinite being. Roberts did not have much of a problem with this because he did not consider Mormon doctrine to be bound to the creedal assumption that God should be infinite or simple.

“But we have already seen that God cannot be considered as absolutely infinite, because we are taught by the facts of revelation that absolute infinity cannot hold as to God; as a person, God has limitations, and that which has limitations is not absolutely infinite. If God is conceived as absolutely infinite, in his substance as in his attributes, then all idea of personality respecting him must be given up; for personality implies limitations.” [8]

There seems to me a striking bend toward materialism in both the theologies of Roberts and Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith himself said: “There is no such thing as immaterial matter. All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; we cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter.” (Doctrine and Covenants 131:7-8) This is a surprising idea for a religion since religions are often tasked with the realm of the “supernatural”. Joseph Smith says essentially that there is no such thing as supernatural, only natural. Granted, spirit matter must be different from most matter we are familiar with since “we cannot see it”. But if all spirit is matter than we can safely surmise that it behaves in a somewhat similar way.

If God has a physical body, it should be composed of many parts, cells perhaps. Of course, resurrected bodies must be quite different from our mortal bodies. For one thing, a resurrected body does not die. Joseph Smith also taught “all [men] will be raised by the power of God, having spirit in their bodies, and not blood.” [9] So resurrected bodies have flesh and bone instead of flesh and blood. If this is meant literally, then it means that the body of God is very different. Blood is mostly water in which nutrients, proteins, and substrates are delivered to our cells. This means that resurrected bodies may not even be water-based, while our bodies are mostly water. But putting these differences aside, I find the idea that my body is at least in the image of God’s quite appealing. The human body is a masterpiece. It is not simple—it is composed of many parts. But as Carl Sagan said, “the beauty of a living thing is not the atoms that go into it but the way those atoms are put together.”

The idea that God the Father is embodied and that we resemble him is not trivial. It affects the way we view God and relate to him. B.H. Roberts’ key point in proving the corporeality of God was in the humanity of Jesus Christ. Jesus was a god and he had a body. As odd as it may sound, Jesus has sometimes been troublesome to Christian theology. This is because traditional Christianity has tried to reconcile the Hebrew religion in which Jesus ministered with Greek philosophy, specifically Neoplatonism. Philosopher Blake Ostler said:

“The complex of absolutist properties derived from both Middle Platonism and Neoplatonism—immutability, simplicity, timelessness, impassibility and incorporeality—was accepted as axiomatic properties of divinity even though not a single one of these terms appeared in the Judeo-Christian writings and seemed to positively contradict much of what was found therein... The notion that God became a man in Jesus of Nazareth and saved the world by suffering with, because of and on behalf of the world was difficult to reconcile with the Neoplatonic notion of God which maintained that God was absolutely unaffected by anything that happened in the world. How could such a view be squared with the belief that Jesus of Nazareth was in fact very God? Everything the Neoplatonists meant by the word God was contradicted if Jesus was somehow a revelation of the divine nature—God was thought of as immaterial and incorporeal and yet Jesus had a material body. God did not change and yet Jesus clearly grew and changed over time. God could not suffer in any way and yet Jesus suffered.” [10]

Particularly troubling was the idea that God had a body: “For Greeks, it was unthinkable that the divine be corporeal (i.e., have a physical body). It was even more unacceptable to assert that a divine being could suffer, for the divine was simple or noncomposite and above the change and the obvious decay of order accompanying anything that could suffer.” [11] Yet while these images of Jesus did not fit into the Greek paradigm, there were still the images portrayed in the scriptures.

My view of the body is very positive. I believe that the human body is a reflection of the divine image of God. The body is not something to be despised but something to be revered and reverenced. We should take care of our bodies and appreciate them. We have the gifts of senses and sensations, joys and pleasures that come with a body and we should be grateful for them. For me, the knowledge that Jesus was both God and man is encouraging. I have something to look to and aspire to. I know the way to God because Jesus said “he that hath seen me hath seen the Father”. (John 14:9) From this I understand that the Father is a person. He is not supernatural but he is natural. He is not an ethereal vapor, or dream—that is the same as nothing. God is matter as we are matter. And we can evolve in our inborn potential to be as our Father.


[1] Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Covenant Communications. 2002. p. 185

[2] Bushman, Richard Lyman. Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. Vintage Books. 2005. p. 420-21

[3] Ibid. p. 212-13

[4] Roberts, B.H. The Mormon Doctrine of Deity: The Roberts-Van Der Donckt Discussion. Signature Books. 1998. p. 11

[5] Ibid. p. 51

[6] Ibid p. 53-54

[7] Ibid. p. 111

[8] Ibid. p. 126

[9] History of the Church 4:555-56

[10] Ostler, Blake. Exploring Mormon Thought: The Attributes of God. Kofford Books. 2001. p. 30

[11] Ibid. p. 421

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Most Influential Mormon Leaders

As I got home from work yesterday, sat down to relax and read some Mormon classics I had the idea to make a list of the most influential leaders in Mormon history. I came up with a list of nine people. I’m pretty sure my list includes some people that the majority of Mormons haven’t even heard of. But I justified this to myself because I see that even if Mormons today are not aware of the influence of these people, the church today has been shaped by their lives. So here goes...

1. Joseph Smith, Jr. This was not a difficult choice. Without a doubt, Joseph Smith was and continues to be the most influential figure in Mormon history (at least among mortals). His legacy includes the Church itself, the Book of Mormon, the Inspired Version of the Bible, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lectures on Faith, the Pearl of Great Price, and countless other writings and sermons which impact our understanding of the Gospel.

2. Brigham Young. I didn’t just choose him because he was the next President of the Church. After Joseph Smith he has had the greatest historical impact on Mormon history. Why are church headquarters in Utah? Why are there so many members of the church in Arizona and Idaho? Church demographics and structure still bear the mark of Brigham Young. He was the perfect man to lead the church after Joseph Smith’s death. He was the builder of a nation and a powerful leader. He also left a prolific legacy in the Journal of Discourses.

3. Parley P. Pratt. Great Mormon missionary. Left us A Voice of Warning and Key to the Science of Theology. One of the great martyrs after Joseph Smith.

4. Orson Pratt. The Pratt family comes in strong in the list. Orson, along with his brother, was very influential in the formulation of Mormon doctrine and theology. He was also an accomplished mathematician and inventor. He was one of the inventors of the odometer. He sometimes had differences with Brigham Young in particular points of doctrine but both left a impressionable mark on the church.

5. B.H. Roberts. One of the most prolific writers in the church’s history and a great scholar. The writings of B.H. Roberts include the three-volume New Witness for God, Outlines of Ecclesiastical History, the five-volume Seventy’s Course in Theology, and the six-volume Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He also compiled the writings of Joseph Smith in the seven-volume History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He gave what may be the most extensive examination of the Mormon understanding of God in The Mormon Doctrine of Deity: the Roberts-Van der Donckt Discussion. He had a few run-ins with other church leaders. In one case he recommended that church leadership confront seriously the attacks on the historicity of the Book of Mormon in his Studies of the Book of Mormon. Later, in what he considered his finest work, Roberts prepared the manuscript of The Truth, the Way, and the Life but it was denied publication by the church.

6. John A Widtsoe. A Norwegian immigrant, scientist and academician. Widtsoe was one of a group of influential scientists to participate in church leadership. He developed a systematic exposition of Mormon theology in his book Rational Theology: As Taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As a scientist, Widtsoe placed a great emphasis on the physical sciences and understood scientific learning to be an important part of the process of deification. His other works include Joseph Smith as Scientist: A Contribution to Mormon Philosophy, a compilation of the Discourses of Brigham Young, and Priesthood and Church Government in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

7. James E. Talmage. Another scientist General Authority. The works of James E. Talmage are still widely read by many members of the church. His most famous book, Jesus the Christ, is still included in the missionary library. Some other well-known books include The Articles of Faith and The Great Apostasy.

8. Joseph Fielding Smith. He was President of the Church for only two years but he served as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for sixty-two years. He was President of the Quorum of the Twelve for nineteen years. Works by Joseph Fielding Smith include his three-volume Doctrines of Salvation, his five- volume Answers to Gospel Questions, and his widely-used compilation Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. While the church itself established no definitive position on the Theory of Organic Evolution, Smith differed with Roberts, Widtsoe, and Talmage in his understanding of the age of the Earth and the development of life on Earth. His views on these subjects were published in his book Man, His Origin and Destiny.

9. Bruce R. McConkie. The most recent person on the list and one of the best known. Bruce R. McConkie wrote some of the most extensive works on Church Doctrine in recent time. His most famous work is probably Mormon Doctrine. While this book is not official “Mormon Doctrine” much of the Bible Dictionary in the Church’s edition of the Bible borrows from his book. He also wrote the chapter headings of the more recent editions of the Standard Works. He compiled the writings of his father-in-law, Joseph Fielding Smith, in Doctrines of Salvation. He also authored a six-volume work, The Messiah Series as well as A New Witness for the Articles of Faith.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Search For God

“Look up. Aspire. Push back your horizons. Seek for the answers. Search for God.”
-Hugh B. Brown [1]

Who is God? The question itself, asked in this manner, presupposes the idea of a divine personality. There are many ideas and beliefs concerning this very point, some of which would say that asking “who” God is would not be that right question in the first place. Still others would suggest that asking any question at all about God is meaningless because God is incomprehensible or even ineffable. This is not a question to be trifled with nor is it question with an easy answer. Were it easy it would not weigh so heavily on the minds of so many people.

Jesus gave the matter special importance: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). Thus, knowing God, the only true God, and Jesus Christ is the quest of life, life eternal. Joseph Smith said: “Let us here observe, that three things are necessary in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation. First, the idea that he actually exists. Secondly, a correct idea of his character, perfections, and attributes. Thirdly, an actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing is according to his will. For without an acquaintance with these three important facts, the faith of every rational being must be imperfect and unproductive; but with this understanding it can become perfect and fruitful, abounding in righteousness, unto the praise and glory of God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.” [2]

He said later in the King Follett Discourse: “There are but a very few beings in the world who understand rightly the character of God... If a man learns nothing more than to eat, drink and sleep, and does not comprehend any of the designs of God, the beast comprehends the same things. It eats, drinks, sleeps, and knows nothing more about God; yet it knows as much as we, unless we are able to comprehend by the inspiration of Almighty God. If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves. I want to go back to the beginning, and so lift your minds into a more lofty sphere and a more exalted understanding that what the human mind generally aspires to.” [3] This quest for exalted understanding makes all the difference. It is not only to understand some fantastic being off light-years away from here or who-know where. The journey to comprehend God is a journey of self-discovery “for in him we live, and move, and have our being... for we are also his offspring” (Acts 17:28).

What is this kind of knowledge worth? To the King Lamoni and his father it was worth a great deal. When Aaron came to him he did not know anything about God. He had permitted the Amalekites to build sanctuaries to worship but did not even have a belief in God himself. Aaron taught him to pray and to speak with God. King Lamoni prayed: “O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day” (Alma 22:18). Lamoni was willing to give up all his sins. This is significant. This was a life-changing moment. This was the turning, his teshuvah or repentance. He was willing to put away everything that kept him from God.

We ultimately rely on God to reveal himself but we must seek after him. This is not only a theological exercise. It is a relationship that we build, a relationship of unity, the transformation of our character into the likeness of Christ, the image of God on earth. It is ultimately through the revelations and God that we are able to find him. “Behold, great and marvelous are the works of the Lord. How unsearchable are the depths of the mysteries of him; and it is impossible that man should find out all his ways. And no man knoweth of his ways save it be revealed unto him; wherefore, brethren, despise not the revelations of God.” (Jacob 4:8)


[1] Brown, Hugh B. Continuing the Quest. Deseret Book Company. 1961. p. 252
[2] Lectures on Faith. Bookcraft. p. 41
[3] Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Covenant Communications. 2002. p. 355

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Fall, Part 3: Adam to Michael

This is my final post to complete the three-part series on the Fall of Adam and Eve. In my previous two posts I discussed the history of Original Sin and a metaphorical understanding of the Fall. I want to continue in the metaphorical understanding as I move from the Fall to the Redemption through Christ and his Atonement.

The word “atonement” is something of a neologism. It was created by William Tyndale in the sixteenth century as he was preparing an English translation of the Bible. He wanted to use a word that correctly matched the biblical Hebraic concept and found no word satisfactory. He created the word “atonement” to describe a unification or reconciliation, an “at-onement”. The Atonement of Christ is designed to bring mortal man, Adam, to be made “at-one” with God. This process is not one of physical proximity but of personal development.

In the Garden of Eden man was with God but at the same time far from him. All the perfection and happiness of immortality was given to him but he could not comprehend it. Adam was in the Garden of Eden but he was never qualified to be there. He lacked knowledge and understanding. He was meant not just to be with God but to be like God. It is appropriate that in Mormon doctrine Adam is understood to be the same being as Michael (Doctrine and Covenants 27:11). The name Adam is Hebrew meaning "mankind". The name Michael is also Hebrew and means “who is like God”. If we are to liken this unto ourselves we all have a dual nature: our mortality in “Adam” and our divinity in “Michael”.

So how are we to be transformed from Adam to Michael? It is a giant leap considering the vast differences between mortal man and divine beings. Adam was formed from the ground, the “adamah”. Our mortal man will die and decay. Our bodies and our minds will fail. Our capabilities, though significant, are ultimately limited and terminable. God is immortal and will not die or suffer the afflictions of mortal bodies. He can be understood to exceed all our capacities and has power likely beyond comprehension. How is Adam transformed into Michael “who is like God?” The answer is through the atonement of Jesus Christ. The atonement makes us “at-one” with God, like unto God, “Mi-Cha-El”.

The purpose of our life is to develop as sons and daughters of God. Just as children must leave home to develop, Adam must leave Eden to grow. He has gained knowledge of good and evil. He must now acquire wisdom to choose the good over the evil. He must see that Eden is not the natural condition of things in the universe but that without sustained care, the world around us begins to decay. As children leave the home they come to realize that the gas tank will empty, the bank account depletes and that work is required to sustain order. Just as entropy drives a system to a state of disorder without an input of work, life will fall into disarray without action to put things in order. Eden was creation made by God and more importantly sustained by God. But when God left man alone the earth brought forth noxious weeds and thistles. Plants needed to be cultivated and food had to be earned by the sweat of the brow.

It might seem cruel for God to leave Adam and Eve alone to suffer. Corianton thought so and Alma explained the parable to him. The story is fitting because Corianton himself had to pass through his own affliction and fight his own demons as he faced the burden of sin.

Alma said to his son: “Ye do try to suppose that it is injustice that the sinner should be consigned to a state of misery. Now behold, my son, I will explain this thing unto thee. For behold, after the Lord God sent our first parents forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground, from whence they were taken—yea, he drew out the man, and he placed at the east end of the garden of Eden, cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the tree of life—Now, we see that the man had become as God, knowing good and evil; and lest he should put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat and live forever, the Lord God placed cherubim and the flaming sword, that he should not partake of the fruit—And thus we see, that there was a time granted unto man to repent, yea, a probationary time, a time to repent and serve God. For behold, if Adam had put forth his hand immediately, and partaken of the tree of life, he would have lived forever, according to the word of God, having no space for repentance; yea, and also the word of God would have been void, and the great plan of salvation would have been frustrated.” (Alma 42:1-5)

Adam and Eve were not ready to be in Eden, they were not yet as God and they were not prepared for immortality. They were still immature. They were given time to prepare. And what was this preparation? They were to “repent and serve God”. There are two words in Hebrew for the verb “repent”. One is “nicham” which literally means to sigh and by implication to feel sorry. The other is “shuv” which literally means to turn. This life is a time to prepare to meet God (Alma 34:32), to serve him, to feel after him and to turn to him. The “Way” to God is Christ.

We are to be perfect like our Father in Heaven (Matthew 5:48). But how are we to know the way, how do we know the Father? Jesus said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). Christ and God the Father are one and we are to be one with them (John 17:11). We are to put away are old life and die with Christ so that we may be resurrected with him into a new life, a life with God (Romans 6:3-8). The Atonement of Christ cleanses us from sin but it also does much, much more. It is through the Atonement that we share an inheritance with Christ. We become “joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together” (Romans 8:17).

Christ’s Atonement has the power to take mortal, finite, temporal creature and transform it into an immortal, infinite, eternal being. It is the infinite Atonement. This body that was formed from the raw materials of the earth can be cast into the likeness of the Father. We are tried and proven through experience of mortality. We come to see how the world works. We see that it is a difficult universe filled with complexity and awesome destructive power. But through an understanding of the operative laws in our universe we can return to Eden. We are always facing eastward toward Eden striving to return once again. But this time we will be prepared to be there. This time we will be permitted to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Life. We will become divine beings, returning not only to be with God but to be like God. We will be transformed from Adam to Michael.