Anciently, many civilizations believed in worshipped a pantheon of gods. There were different gods for love, anger, death, war, hunting, agriculture, weather, parties, childbirth, travel, etc.
People payed homage to the gods from whom they sought blessings. If they wanted to be successful in war, they supplicated the god of war; if they experienced a drought or famine, they’d make offerings to the gods of agriculture and weather, and so on.
Furthermore, the ancient gentiles did not believe there was any inherent unity among the gods; one god might come along one day and thump another one on the head, and that would be that – no more hunting. It made for a pretty fickle and arbitrary world.
What made the God of Israel unique is that He was all powerful, and unified in purpose. He was kind, but also severe. He was strong, but also longsuffering. He empowered His people in war, but also commanded them to not murder. In short, the gentile worldview believed that all of the elements of life worked independently of one another, while the Israelite’s believed that they all fit together inside of one great whole.
Hence, we have Moses’ unique declaration to a people who just came out of a polytheistic culture: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5; emphasis added). (As a side note, all of the heavenly host were still referred to as “gods,” but unlike the polytheistic gods, they all worked together in harmony under the Most High God).
Because Jehovah’s attributes encompassed all other “gods,” the ancients naturally wanted to understand how He balanced many (seemingly) contradictory characteristics. How could He support both love and war? How could He sanction one thing in one instance, but not in another? Just who is this “Most High God”, and what is He like?
The divisive thing about Jehovah is that His character and attributes are an all-or-nothing package deal. There’s no picking and choosing the parts you like while discarding the rest. You must take Him as He is.
The tendency of many people today is to decide upfront what they believe is right and moral, and then make a God in their own image. Every single person who believes in God is going to believe He aligns with their political ideology, personal philosophy, etc. While these things absolutely should be aligned, most people take it upon themselves to decide what they think is right and wrong before consulting God, and then assume He must agree with their beliefs. You may find that most of the time, the “God” people have created in their own image doesn’t require them to really change, either. Our behavior reflects our beliefs, our beliefs reflect our values, and our values reflect our image of God.
This is really just a shade of polytheism. When people do this, they aren’t worshipping Jehovah, they’re worshipping “the god of niceness,” and “the god of parties,” and “the god of church-attendance,” and so on.
A Correct Idea of His Character, Perfections, and Attributes
In the Lectures on Faith we read that in order for men and women to exercise faith unto life and salvation, they must have “a correct idea of [God’s] character, perfections and attributes” (Lectures on Faith 3:4).
God is salvation, and Christ is a saved being. His name (order, pattern, character, attributes) is the only name whereby we can be saved from the state of death common to us all.
There is an order to all creation. Inasmuch as we depart from that order, we will die. We are all branches dislodged from the tree of life, projected to decay forever and ever. Only by being reclaimed by one willing to pay the price, and thereafter living in harmony with the order of creation, can we have hope for salvation. The life, ministry, and atonement of Jesus Christ makes both of these things possible; not only has He paid the price to reclaim us, but He has shown us the way whereby we can remain with Him. His life and example are the essence of heaven itself, and He lends His grace to purify those who follow Him.
Continuing in the Lectures on Faith, we read:
“But to be a little more particular, let us ask, where shall we find a prototype into whose likeness we may be assimilated, in order that we may be made partakers of life and salvation? or in other words, where shall we find a saved being? for if we can find a saved being, we may ascertain, without much difficulty, what all others must be, in order to be saved—they must be like that individual or they cannot be saved: we think, that it will not be a matter of dispute, that two beings, who are unlike each other, cannot both be saved; for whatever constitutes the salvation of one, will constitute the salvation of every creature which will be saved: and if we find one saved being in all existence, we may see what all others must be, or else not be saved. We ask, then, where is the prototype? or where is the saved being? We conclude as to the answer of this question there will be no dispute among those who believe the bible, that it is Christ: all will agree in this that he is the prototype or standard of salvation, or in other words, that he is a saved being.
“And if we should continue our interrogation, and ask how it is that he is saved, the answer would be, because he is a just and holy being; and if he were any thing different from what he is he would not be saved; for his salvation depends on his being precisely what he is and nothing else; for if it were possible for him to change in the least degree, so sure he would fail of salvation and lose all his dominion, power, authority and glory, which constitutes salvation; for salvation consists in the glory, authority, majesty, power and dominion which Jehovah possesses, and in nothing else; and no being can possess it but himself or one like him: Thus says John, in his first epistle, 3:2 and 3: ‘Behold, now we are the sons of God, and it doth not appear what we shall be; but we know, that when he shall appear we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And any man that has this hope in him purifies himself, even as he is pure.’—Why purify himself as he is pure? because, if they do not they cannot be like him.” (Lectures on Faith 7:9; emphasis added)
Christ needed to be exactly what He was in order to be a “saved being.” Hence, He is the way, the truth, and the life. He emulated the various attributes of God in a perfectly balanced way – balance being the key word.
When we’re developing any skill, whether it’s riding a bike, singing, cooking, or hitting a baseball, we must find balance between several principles in order to find mastery. Too much of one thing (or too little of another) can be enough to prevent good results. So it is with the character of Christ. To worship Him is not to love one of His attributes at the expense of all others, but to find the balance between them all. He is merciful, but He is also just. He is meek, but He is also bold.
Hear, O Israel, Jehovah our God is one Lord.
Jesus’s prayed for His followers, “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us” (John 17:21). His desire is that we share in His character, perfections, and attributes – as He is one with the Father, so may we be one with Him. On this oneness hangs life and salvation: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).
The Lies That Resonate
As we are all quickened by a portion of the Lord’s Spirit, we have an inherent ability to recognize truth. Satan combats this through temptation and false traditions, both of which obscure our view and make truth harder to detect (D&C 93:39). The average person will not readily embrace darkness and evil. Instead, Satan crafts lies that have some sort of basis in truth (for which the soul yearns). However, like salt water to the dehydrated, the more they buy into the lie, the more devastating its effects become.
For example, the increasing desire some people have to treat all people’s beliefs as equally valid is rooted in humility. However, it begins to find itself less balanced as it emphasizes this one virtue at the expense of all others. Moral relativism leads to nihilism, depression, and worse. The fruit is not good. Hence life eternal is to know God; salvation is found, not by worshipping “the god of humility,” but by worshipping the Father in the name of Christ.
Every popular belief system, ideology, and social movement is based on some true principle or attribute of Deity. Unfortunately, they’re almost all short-sighted, imbalanced, and destructive. They have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof. Like trying to survive by drinking ocean water, people are drawn in by the forms and depraved by the content. It’s salt water to the soul.
The only way we can only guard against these clever deceptions is through a firm desire to know God. Seeking Him must be our highest priority. He’s promised that those who do so in our day will find Him:
“And the Lord shall scatter you [Israel] among the nations, and ye shall be left few in number among the heathen, whither the Lord shall lead you. And there ye shall serve gods, the work of men’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell. But if from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul” (Deuteronomy 4:27-29).
We can seek Him by letting go of our pre-determined beliefs of what’s right and wrong – letting go of any position, paying any price, and being completely open to receiving and obeying the truth He reveals. We can allow God to teach us about Himself without reservations, willing to change our political views, doctrinal views, or social views to align with what His word. As Jacob taught, “seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand” (Jacob 4:10). This takes faith that He knows better than we do.
We can seek Him by aligning ourselves to all we know to be right. We can commit, here and now, to obey every prompting and live by every truth that He reveals to us in the day-to-day moments of our lives. We can live in the light of what our conscience currently tells us is right and wrong. One repentant person in the scriptures exemplified this attitude in prayer: “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).
As you’re reading this, you may be able to think of something awry in your life that you know needs fixing; there’s the starting point. Privately seek to set your life in order; do the things you know you should be doing.
We can seek Him by diligently seeking further light and knowledge from the Lord directly. We can allow the scriptures and (more importantly) revelation to inform our understanding of right and wrong. We can allow the scriptures to tell us what they say instead of us telling them what they say. We can search the scriptures diligently for a deeper and clearer understanding of God’s will, generally and for our own lives.
As we do these things, giving greater heed (obedience) and diligence (searching) to His word, He will open up and reveal to us greater and greater truths about Himself, His character, perfections, and attributes. We will come to know Him, and thus be partakers of eternal life (John 17:3 cf. Matthew 7:21-23; 25:11-12; Alma 12:9-15).