For the last five months or so, I’ve spent almost all of my spare time on writing an essay I hope to publish as a video, or maybe a series. It’s taken greater priority for me than posting anything on this blog, but every now and then I have moments of clarity that I feel would be worthwhile to stop and share with others along the way. I hope this is coherent enough to be helpful, and that I’m able to lay out the prerequisites clearly and succinctly.
Once one has passed through the strait gate, and come into a state of justification, the real journey of coming to Christ begins. However, I think it would be helpful to first build the framework so that the next step follows naturally.
Hierarchy of Values, Priority, and Attention
It’s been said that people are aiming creatures. Everything we do has a purpose or a “why.” Behind every action, there is a target. Behind every target, there is a bigger target. You may be studying microbiology to pass tomorrow’s test, so that you can pass the course, so that you can graduate, so that you can become a dentist, etc. At any given moment, you can determine your motives and purpose in something by stopping and asking yourself, “why?”
When you follow those answers back as far as they go, you’ve discovered the higher ideals you’re attending to—in essence, the god (or gods) you worship. Worship and attention are tightly knit. This is why in Hebrew, “work” and “worship” are the same word. The thing all your work is “for,” whether it be comfort, or power, or money, or love—that is what you worship. The question is not “do you believe in God?”, only, “which god do you worship?”
Everyone has a hierarchy of values and attention. The higher you go in the hierarchy, the more it impacts the fundamental direction of your life. Becoming a dentist, for example, will dictate whether you go to school, what you go to school for, which classes you take, what you fill your time studying, and other sacrifices you will make along the way.
Wherever there is attention, there is sacrifice. As it’s been noted by psychologists, you can only ever think of one thing at a time. Giving your attention to one thing, whether in a single moment (like reading a book), or more generally (like pursuing a degree) means that you are not focusing on other things. You get to decide what you’re going to worship, or attend to. You get to decide what you’re going to think about—but you can only pick one thing at a time. Every decision in every moment is a sacrifice. Every decision in every moment is one of worship. “I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved” (Psalm 16:8).
An Eye Single to His Glory
Many people who say they worship God do so in word only, drawing near with their lips, though their hearts are far from Him (Isaiah 29:13). “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). There are also people who don’t explicitly believe in God, or Christ, but whose every action can be traced back to love (albeit at a lower-resolution).
Passing through the strait gate is a matter of reconciling your entire value structure to Christ. This is what repentance is all about. It’s more than just feeling bad and wanting to do better (although those are important first steps). It’s considering everything you do, all of your habits, routines, and values, and cutting out those things that can’t be traced back to God. It’s consecrating everything you have to the end of bringing forth His kingdom on earth.
Like the brazen serpent Moses set up, setting our attention on Him alone is the only thing that will save us.
Additionally, this is why you cannot serve both God and mammon. Though it may be the Lord’s will that you become a dentist, you must do it for Him. Though you may make money at your job, you recognize that these are all things that are His, and must still be used for His purposes. This is why will it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. You cannot seek money and build the kingdom at the same time. Everything must be on the altar, all the time. This is the only way life can flow through us.
Expanding Our Vision
Yet frequently, it is the case that after passing through the strait gate, after giving our whole lives and wills over to God, there are moments that pull our attention away from Him. Like Peter walking out onto the water to Christ, being overcome with fear by the wind and the waves, we begin to sink. Circumstances in life may arise, a scenario calculated to distract us may unfold, and the moment our attention is pulled away from the Savior, we begin to sink.
Sin, by definition, is to “miss the mark.” It is what happens when we are distracted from our highest ideal. It is what happens when the winds of adversity push against us, and the waves of chaos shift under our feet. As was mentioned earlier, you can only look at and think about one thing at a time. This becomes difficult when we wade out into the world trying to focus on Christ, but are bombarded with a million other things that pull our attention away from Him—some smaller, some greater. How can we keep our attention on Him amidst this world’s persistent vicissitudes? How can we look to Him in every thought (D&C 6:36) and “pray always, that [we] may come off conqueror” (D&C 10:5), when our daily situations seem to distract us from this?
This brings us to an interesting truth.
We may only be able to think about one thing at a time, however, what happens when a collection of things are organized in such a way that we recognize them as one singular object? For example, when you see a couch, you see a variety of things. There are feet, cushions, perhaps a wooden structure holding it together. Not to mention, the cushions, legs, and structure are already a collection of several components and materials themselves. And yet, when you approach the couch, you don’t begin by examining each individual particle before doing the math and realizing it’s a couch. You perceive it all at once.
As odd as it may sound, this is the glory of God.
Light organizes. It creates structure. It turns a sound into a word, words into a sentence, and sentences into paragraphs. It is the power by which the world was organized. When you possess light, you perceive the structure of things that before looked like independent particles. An ant cannot perceive a couch, but a dog can. A dog cannot perceive the complexities of language, but a child can. A child cannot perceive our economic and political structure, but someone of greater maturity can. The greater light you possess, the greater structure you can “see” or perceive in the world.
God is truth. He is the structure of reality. He framed the world, and the course of its history. Whereas we use sounds and pictures to convey who we are, He uses everything in the cosmos. He has organized all that has happened throughout time like words in a sentence, declaring His nature. Just as an ant cannot perceive a house as one thing, so the natural man cannot perceive all creation as one thing flowing out from Him. He does not readily see how all things are organized together to convey a higher meaning, and that reality is fundamentally good (Romans 8:28).
When you increase in light, you increase in your ability to encounter anything while still keeping your attention on the Savior, because you see how it is all organized around who He is. The winds and the waves do not deter you, because you recognize that they are an extension of Him. You see that He is in all things and through all things, the light of truth (D&C 88:6).
The reason we fall is because we cannot keep our aim and focus on Christ. We encounter things that seem outside of Him—that split our attention. We get lost in the details of our jobs, distracted by the things of this world, and overcome by suffering.
The solution is that we come to know Him better than we already do. We seek out greater revelations of His light and truth so that we see the higher order of things, and can keep our focus on Christ. The goal is that we see there is nothing we can encounter that is not part of Him.
To do this, we must turn to Him. Our attention cannot be on our weakness, but on His nature. We must soften our hearts and receive His light in greater degrees, and let it fill our mind and soul until all darkness is dispelled. We reconcile our hearts to what we have, and seek out more—greater revelations of His light and love.
Because He is truth, coming to know Him in any way is also a revelation about the structure of reality. The Spirit can expand our view via insights, connections, and new perspectives. At a higher resolution, visions also allow us to perceive multiplicity as unity. For example, when Nephi desired to understand his father’s dream about the tree of life, he was shown a vision of the Savior’s birth, which then allowed him to perceive its meaning. This expanded understanding then gave way to a vision of several other things, allowing him to perceive God in many things yet to unfold.
As the picture comes into view, there will eventually be nothing in this world that can deter our attention from Him, because we see how He is in all things and through all things. This is what Alma means by knowing the mysteries of God “in full” (Alma 12:10). You cannot perceive the fulness of His glory without perceiving how all creation is ordered and organized by God. Like Moses, we can be quickened by the Spirit such that we perceive the whole earth, not excepting one person or particle (Moses 1:27-29). Like the brother of Jared, we can behold everything that has been and shall be, “even unto the ends of the earth” (Ether 3:25).
“And in that day that they shall exercise faith in me, saith the Lord, even as the brother of Jared did, that they may become sanctified in me, then will I manifest unto them the things which the brother of Jared saw, even to the unfolding unto them all my revelations, saith Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of the heavens and of the earth, and all things that in them are” (Ether 4:7).
The scriptures say that the fulness of His glory is glorious rest indeed (D&C 84:24; cf. Isaiah 11:10). Obtaining it (or rather, obtaining Him) is the only way we can overcome the world and find true rest. For this reason, the fulness of His glory is the law of the Celestial kingdom:
“They are they into whose hands the Father has given all things—They are they who are priests and kings, who have received of his fulness, and of his glory… Wherefore, as it is written, they are gods, even the sons of God—Wherefore, all things are theirs, whether life or death, or things present, or things to come, all are theirs and they are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. And they shall overcome all things. Wherefore, let no man glory in man, but rather let him glory in God, who shall subdue all enemies under his feet. These shall dwell in the presence of God and his Christ forever and ever” (D&C 76:55-62).