The “Science” of Sanctification

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).

Seek and Ye Shall Find: The Spiritual Paradox of Objective Reasoning

This will be a follow up post to “Obstacles to Receiving Greater Truth,” continuing the thread of self-deception and obtaining truth.

There’s no such thing as being objective. For the last few hundred years, our modern culture has perpetuated the belief that we can think about and observe truth as though we’re just outside spectators. This is a Gentile idea, and is false.

We need to challenge that assumption. No matter who you are, where you go, or what you’re thinking, you are always an active participant in this world. Unlike the Greeks, who believed truth was a thought to be had, the Hebrews believed it was a life to be lived (e.g. compare Socrates with Isaiah). In other words, we do not just think about truth; we do truth.

This might seem like a foreign idea (and by definition, it is), however, grafting ourselves back into the house of Israel requires we shift our worldview from our native Gentile paradigm to that of God’s people. Making this shift will act as a guard-rail against deception in our quest for truth.

You Go Where You Look

As clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson has put it, people are “aiming creatures.” In one sense, this is what our eyes are designed to do; we focus on things so that we can get them. Not too long ago, we hunted for food. I suppose in a humorous way, we still do the same thing at the grocery store, in sports, and other activities. Generally speaking, we have aims and goals in our lives. We’re always aiming at something—whether it’s to graduate, be a better person, get that pay raise, or just make it through the day. Even the lowest or poorest of goals still represent an aim, a direction, and a course of action. Everything we do is motivated by our deeper desires—whatever they might be.

A common tip given to student motorcyclists is to “look where you want to go.” This is because where you look is where you’ll go; it’s inevitable. If you see an upcoming accident, you’re instructed to look to the clear spaces around it and not at the accident itself (otherwise you’ll end up hitting it dead on). The direction you look affects the direction you’re facing, which affects your trajectory, and ultimately your destination.

This is a true principle generally. The direction you look—the things you desire and focus on—will determine your destination.

Part of the reason for this actually isn’t too mysterious. The world presents itself to us according to the things we focus on. For example, have you ever noticed when you’re driving a new car that it suddenly seems like everyone else is driving the same car? Before, it was white noise; now it catches your attention every time.

I remember when I was 5 or 6 hearing the word “awkward” for the first time (the funny thing is, “awkward” wasn’t even the word that was being said; it was “Upward,” the Christian basketball league). I swore that nobody had ever used the word before, but suddenly I was hearing “awkward” left and right.

This holds for more complex ideas too. You’ve probably found when you’re learning something new, or are thinking about a question, that suddenly it’s relevant to all of the conversations you’re having, or things you’re reading. You encounter it everywhere.

Your world presents itself as the product of your conscious attention.

We are encountering an overload of information all the time. It’s too much to make sense of all at once, so we choose to focus on what we think is most important, or relevant. This is like wading out into the world holding a piece of Velcro, which is designed to catch things of a similar nature. If I’m thinking about the word “awkward,” I’ll start to notice every time somebody says it.

So how does this apply spiritually?

Well, like the piece of Velcro, “like attracts like.” In other words, we will gravitate towards whatever is in our own heart. It will affect the things we give attention to, the way we think, the questions we ask, and ultimately the conclusions we draw. It all begins in our heart, with our desires.

The Orientation of Our Heart

This brings us back to the idea covered in the previous post about “the thoughts of the heart.” Just like anger or depression can distort the way you think about something in a moment, so too can pride, fear, complacency, etc., affect the way you think about things generally. The state of one’s heart will reflect its feelings back to itself. If you’re a fearful person, you’re going to see reasons to be fearful. “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”

The best way to think about the state of your heart is as being “oriented” in a certain direction. Which way are you facing? What are you aiming at? Because like a motorcyclist, you’ll go where you look. You are going to find exactly what you’re looking for—even if it’s not what you think you’re looking for: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:21).

We treat confirmation bias like it’s this thing we have to watch out for, but can escape if we’re actively trying to be objective. We cannot. We don’t get the luxury of just making observations about things like we’re outside spectators. We are inescapably participants, subject to the state of our own hearts.

If you were truly objective, you wouldn’t have any interest or curiosity in learning anything in the first place. Interest, curiosity, and questions denote that we are orienting our attention towards something. The kinds of questions we ask reflect our attention and desire–the direction our hearts are pointed.

Furthermore, the kinds of questions we ask determine the kind of answers we can get. Questions function like a flashlight: they focus you on certain things at the exclusion of others. Every question has certain baked-in assumptions about what can be an answer. If I asked you, “what time is it?,” and you told me “strawberry-shortcake,” I couldn’t register that—even as a wrong answer. It’s completely outside of what that question assumes it can discover. That’s not inherently bad, but it highlights the nature of attention. Certain questions can only get you certain answers.

As another example of this: if you asked me, “Is college good?”, it would be improper to just give a yes or no answer. There are certainly beneficial aspects to college, but it may not be for everyone in every case; the culture and ideology tend to be corrupt; there may be more efficient ways to get a good job in your field, etc. Either response (yes or no) may lead you to conclusions I didn’t intend to convey.

The issue then, very frequently, becomes: are we asking the right question? Think about how many times Christ answered a question with another question, or reframed the question being asked. He was changing the orientation of the asker because their question wasn’t going to get them anywhere.

Whether you’re asking a friend a question, conducting a scientific study, or seeking revelation from God, the right questions will get you the right answers.

It all starts with the desires of our hearts. Everything else flows out from there. Our hearts reflect our desires, our desires determine our focus, our focus determines our direction, and our direction determines our destination.

Confirmation bias itself is actually neutral—it just represents our state of being, or the direction we’re headed. It is the frequency on which we resonate. The real question is: what are biased to, and why?

Each line represents an orientation, paradigm, bias, or “frequency,” with its associated trajectory. The yellow line represents the light, word, Spirit, and truth of God. When our hearts are not properly oriented towards Him, our trajectory will take us away from Him.

As intelligent beings, we are always trying to organize facts into a narrative, or story. This is how we understand and make sense of things.

That being said, there are an infinite number of ways to make sense of the world. Because the state of our heart impacts our conclusions, the way we see the world is directly tied to the state of our heart. In other words, the belief system that each person has indicates something about their heart.

Those who have similar hearts come to similar conclusions. This is why we see social trends (correlations) in political parties, music interests (concerts), restaurants, stores, clothing styles, churches, religions, etc. Like attracts like. You will gravitate towards whatever is in your heart. If you are “vibrating” at a certain frequency, you’re going to surround yourself with people and things that are the same. Again, that’s not inherently bad [1]. It’s just important to recognize. The external things orbiting in someone’s life represent the internal condition of their hearts. In a sense, it’s the fruit they bear.

The Path We Walk

Each orientation of the heart will have an associated path (or belief system) built around it. At the end of every path is a god, or ideal, which represents our concept of “perfect” or good. As it’s been said that we’re aiming creatures, the thing you’re aiming at (or are oriented towards) is your god.

Everybody has a god, though not everybody knows it. Even if you’re an atheist, you have a god—and even if you’re Christian, the god you worship may not be the God of Israel. It may be a false image of Him, or something else entirely. Your god may be your possessions, career, business, reputation, spouse, parents, or friends; it may be sports, music, entertainment, comfort, sex, government, academics, medicine, or some form of the “arm of flesh.” It may be the need to be “right” all the time, to be praised, or seen by others. It may be a distorted image of God, such as humility, inclusion, and acceptance at the expense of discernment, truth, and the sacred (or vice versa). In all reality, it will likely be more complicated than a single “thing,” but hopefully these examples illustrate the idea.

Your “god” is the thing your heart is set upon; the thing you’re willing to sacrifice for. Anciently, people would make sacrifices and pay homage to the gods they worshiped. While those specific rituals are not practiced today (at large), our hearts work the same. The god (or image of God) your heart looks to is the god you worship.

Because you go where you look, you will move down a path towards whatever “god” you are looking at. As you persist down that path, you will come to know that god. Like a seed growing into a mature tree, the orientation of your heart will eventually blossom into a comprehensive ideology, worldview, and belief system.

And because truth is not just something we think about, but something we are and do, coming to know your god also means you will be conformed into its image (the Hebrew word for “know” implies experience, the way Adam “knew” Eve, and they became one flesh). Along the way, you may change religions, attitudes, habits, friends, priorities, and more. “Seek and ye shall find” (Matt. 7:7) is first a foremost a statement of fact; you’re going to find whatever is in your heart.

For example, if your heart is filled with fear about not being loved or approved by others, you may first imagine God as a parent with impossibly high and strict standards, and zero tolerance for your flaws. You sense judgment and disapproval from others (whether real or imagined) as your imperfections and errors are on display. Fear prompts you to become a critic of yourself so that nobody else will. You demand flawlessness in every aspect of your life, but find it harder and harder to maintain. The fear of making a mistake even starts to paralyze you. Then you perhaps grow intolerant of the imperfections and mistakes of others, and before you know it, you have been conformed into the image of God you have been trying to appease all your life.

Or perhaps you begin to recognize the bad fruit that serving this “god” bears in your life. You begin to shift your heart’s orientation. You yearn for an end to the mindless rat race, and become attentive to the criticism that you are trying to “work your way to heaven.” As you notice this stress absent in the lives of other Christians, you come to see your past ideals as tyrannical and unhealthy. You question whether a loving God would really make it so hard to return Him. Self-evidently, it seems unreasonable that a parent who really loved their child would keep them out of heaven for their mistakes or flaws. You find it easy to conclude that if God loves us, He will take us no matter how we are—we just need to accept His love. You begin to resent any form of “religious authority” that has the audacity to tell people they need to meet certain standards before God will take them back. You recognize and admire how Christ contradicted the religious authorities of his day, and begin to see Him as irreverent, casual, funny, and opposed to organized religion. In time, you become conformed to this image as well.

These are just a couple of examples that illustrate the idea. Like I mentioned above: this process is actually much more complex and multi-faceted, but the principles are the same. The state of our heart will determine our beliefs, image of God, and who we become.

Because walking down a path is inevitable, it’s important we are intentional about where we look, what we desire, and what we worship. If we seek truth, but our hearts are not right with the Lord, then we will walk a path that takes us away from God.

God is truth (Deuteronomy 32:4), thus if we are interested in obtaining truth, we must gain “a correct idea of [God’s] character, perfections and attributes,” as well as “an actual knowledge that the course of life which [we are] pursuing, is according to his will” (Lectures on Faith 3:4-5). If we’re not actively seeking that, with a willingness to submit to whatever He is, then our hearts will take us a down a path that leads to something else.

So what is the solution? How do we ensure we’re looking and heading in the right direction?

The Straight and Narrow Path

Our goal, above all else, must be to know the only true God. In the intercessory prayer, Christ noted this is the essence of eternal life: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3; emphasis added).

As was mentioned earlier, at the end of every path is a god. If we pursue the path to its end, we will know (or experience and become one with) that god. Thus, in pursuing He who is truth (John 14:6), we can know and become one with truth—which is eternal life.

Christ taught, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matt. 7:13-14).

There is a path that leads to eternal life. If there is a path, there is a direction. If there is a direction, obtaining eternal life requires we properly align our hearts to walk in that direction (1 Kings 8:58,61). As a matter of fact, the word “repent” means to turn and face, or also to have a change of mind (to think differently afterwards). Because the “gate” represents the entrance to this path, it should be no surprise that we read “the gate by which ye should enter is repentance…” (2 Nephi 31:17).

In order to obtain truth, your heart must be aligned with God’s will.
“The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matt. 6:22-23)

Now some of the pieces start coming together: Our heart represents the direction we’re facing. We go where we look. Therefore, we are all heading in some direction. If we want the truth of God, we must fundamentally change the direction we’re facing—the things we desire (and consequently the way we think). By reorienting our hearts, we enter in at the straight gate and begin walking the path that leads to eternal life—which Christ observed “few” do.

In order to be in a state where you can receive truth, you must enter in at the strait gate. This raises the question: how? How do we reorient our hearts to God? How do we know which direction to face? What do we set our hearts upon so that we can know God?

Observe how “eternal life,” or “knowing God,” gets defined in scripture:

The apostle John wrote: “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him” (1 John 2:3-5).

John connects the idea of knowing God to keeping His commandments, and being perfected in the love of God. Jesus also connected eternal life with keeping the commandments: “And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matt. 19:16-17; Matt. 18:8-9).

On one level, we come to know God by keeping His commandments. Therefore, the first thing we ought to seek for (in our hearts) is to keep the commandments of God, both written in scripture and as He speaks to us personally through the voice of our conscience. Our highest desire and priority should be to obey Him, leaving behind all other idols and worldly cares:

“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matt. 16:24-25; emphasis added).

“Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire” (Matt. 18:8-9).

Losing ourselves for Christ’s sake includes not just doing as He asks, but wanting to do as He asks—seeking for it, hungering and thirsting after righteousness. It’s not to merely inconvenience ourselves, but to give up all other desires, plans, and priorities for His will, trusting that His way will bless us more than any other option available (more on this in a future post). To repent and enter in at the gate is to fully reconcile our ideas, desires, and actions to the voice of the Spirit. It’s to love Him, and who He is; to love purity, holiness, light, love, and life. It is by this total surrender of heart and mind that we orient our hearts to God, and begin upon the path that leads to life.

When we get our hearts right with the Lord, truly right, our minds and hearts will then begin to be changed. As we persist down that path (or “endure to the end”), we will come to know Him in the fullest sense: We become like Him (2 Peter 1:5-8; cf. John 17:19-21), pure “even as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3), and will know Him face to face (Genesis 32:30; Exodus 33:11).

John taught, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet 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 every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure… Whosoever abideth in him sinneth  not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him” (1 John 3:2-3,6; cf. 1 John 4:7-8). Christ also noted, “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8; cf. John 6:46).

As was stated above, what we see in the world is a reflection of what’s in our heart. Hence, those who are pure “even as he is pure” will begin to see Him. They’ll begin to see Him in every aspect of their lives, in every detail of the world, and in their own countenance; and eventually they will see and know Him face to face (John 14:21-23; cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12).

Look to Life to Receive Truth

If our goal or desire is anything other than knowing God, our best efforts in discovering truth will take us down one of the many paths leading to death (Matt. 7:13). If we are not actively seeking to learn how God is, and become like He is, our heart will lead us astray (Jeremiah 17:9; contrast with Matt. 5:8). Hence the importance of turning our hearts (Luke 1:16; cf. Psalm 51:10; Jeremiah 24:7; Ezekiel 36:26).

On the other hand, when we orient ourselves to this goal, and are willing to sacrifice any inconvenience or comfort to have it, we allow the Spirit of Truth to flow into our lives and teach us “the truth of all things.” We begin judging ideas and teachings based on their efficacy to bring us closer to God (i.e. accord with His Spirit). We carefully observe whether they bear the fruit of the Spirit in our lives—not just as passing feelings, but as attributes growing within us: “love, joy, peace,  longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Galatians 5:23 [19-23]); and whether they have the power to bring us into God’s presence—to know Him in the fullest sense.

With this in mind, we understand more clearly these words from Christ in the Sermon on the Mount:

“Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

“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. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matt. 7:13-23; emphasis added).

Those who live by these words of the Savior will invariably be led to the truth. They will be equipped to discern truth from error, and true messengers from false ones.

John boldly proclaimed: “We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error” (1 John 4:6; emphasis added).

Paul similarly stated: “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37).

Christ also taught: “If any man will do [God’s] will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17).

In other words, the key to recognizing true messengers of God is to seek to know Him by keeping His commandments and aligning our whole hearts to His will.

As we persist in this state of total surrender, we will begin to acquire His attributes. The greater influence the Spirit has in our lives, the more we become one with Christ and can see things as He sees them—through the mind and will of the Father. As our understanding is thus quickened by the Spirit, we can perceive greater truth. This enables us to see “afar off” (into eternity) both spiritually and physically.

Comparatively, Peter says that “he that lacketh these things [faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity] is blind, and cannot see afar off” (2 Peter 1:9). Paul similarly noted, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Consequently, those who are “not of God” will reject His servants.

Christ Himself was rejected as an imposter by the religious majority of His day because their hearts were not aligned with God’s: “Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God… Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not... He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God” (John 8:42-47; emphasis added).

A Note on the Restoration

When it comes to determining whether or not Joseph Smith was a true or false prophet, we ought to evaluate him by the Savior’s criteria: what is the fruit? Does it bring you closer to God? Does it inspire and empower you to be more like Him? Does it bear greater love, joy, peace, gentleness, meekness, etc., in your character? Does it make you more sensitive to the voice of the Spirit? Does (or can) it bring you through the strait gate, and along the narrow way that leads to life?

Joseph Smith claimed, “If you will obey the Gospel with honest hearts, I promise you, in the name of the Lord, that the gifts as promised by our Savior will follow you, and by this you may prove me to be a true servant of God” (Teachings of the Presidents: Joseph Smith, Ch. 9: Gifts of the Spirit). Therefore, in a very real way, Joseph’s claims can be verified based on their ability to do these things. If obtaining these things is your goal, and your heart is set upon knowing God, then you will be able to determine whether the restoration and its associated scripture, doctrines, ordinances, etc., add any value to your journey.

Joseph is, in essence, claiming to provide a treasure map. If you read and follow the map correctly, you will find the treasure—else he is a false prophet. I will tell you most assuredly that the map is true and faithful. It will guide you into greater light, love, and pure knowledge. When correctly understood, and closely followed, it will do all Joseph claims it does. I am yet to find another system of religion that can do as much for an honest disciple as can the restored gospel.

On the other hand, if you are either unacquainted with or disinterested in knowing God (and all that entails), it does not matter if you are born with the restored gospel or encounter it in another context, it will sooner or later appear foolishness to you. Even the best attempts to reconcile history, scripture, or doctrine will seem forced, convenient, or just a way to “make things fit.” It will not seem like the truth, and trying to believe it is will feel like an increasingly heavy burden.

A living covenant has both blessings and curses attached. You can think of it as a huge stone: if you abide in the covenant, it will become a stepping stone under your feet on your ascent to God; if you do not, it will seem a burden on your shoulders that threatens to crush you. Hence, Christ said, “on whomsoever this stone [the kingdom of God] shall fall, it shall grind him to powder” (see The Parable of the Lion).

All things you don’t understand pertaining to the Restoration can be reconciled, but first you must be reconciled to God through the atonement of Christ, having an eye single to His glory. Then your whole body will be full of light (Matt. 6:22). “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all [your needs] shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33).

What do you desire? What are you seeking first?

Christ’s love for us knows no limit, but because He loves us His standards are exacting. He asks for our whole hearts because He knows anything less will take us down a different path: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other (Matt. 6:24); “if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire” (Matt. 18:9); “he that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37); “if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matt. 16:24).

“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).

Built Upon a Rock

At the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, Christ said: “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it” (Matt. 7:24-27).

If we give everything to follow Christ, passing through the strait gate and walking the narrow way, we will have built our lives on a rock-solid foundation. We will withstand the rain, winds, and floods that threaten to deter us from our course. If on the other hand we hold back a portion of our hearts, try to serve two masters, or are more concerned with the things of this world, the storms and floods of life will disorient us, confuse us, and bring us down.

Ultimately, the hearts matter above all else in the search for truth (spiritual or otherwise). In order to see and understand truth, we must live truthfully. There is no other way to do that than the way prescribed by Christ. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. To know Him is to know truth, see truth, and become truth —which is eternal life.

“God has created man with a mind capable of instruction, and a faculty which may be enlarged in proportion to the heed and diligence given to the light communicated from heaven to the intellect; and . . . the nearer man approaches perfection, the clearer are his views, and the greater his enjoyments, till he has overcome the evils of his life and lost every desire for sin; and like the ancients, arrives at that point of faith where he is wrapped in the power and glory of his Maker, and is caught up to dwell with Him”
—Joseph Smith

[1] The fact that “like attracts like” can apply to either our detriment or our benefit. If our hearts are turned away from God, the things we draw into our life will create greater obstacles in coming to Him. On the other hand, we read: “intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; wisdom receiveth wisdom; truth embraceth truth; virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light… 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” (D&C 88:40, 63).

My Little Narrow Prison

Joseph once called writing a “little, narrow prison” of words; “total darkness of paper, pen and ink—and a crooked, broken, scattered and imperfect language.” That sentiment speaks to me more with each passing day. As I’ve come to understand greater mysteries, seeing the deep coherence and beauty of the gospel, I find it near impossible to reduce these things to words.

It’s not that I feel I know a lot – just that what I do know is beginning to transcend my ability to explain it. Language, sentences, and words are linear; these truths exist in grand patterns and arrays. Putting these things in words is a lot like trying to describe a painting to someone who hasn’t seen it, or tasking a stranger with picking out my friend from a crowd, just based on my description. I recognize and comprehend it when I see it, but struggle to capture its fulness in words.

Like Moroni, I sense my weakness in writing (Ether 12:25).

Like Joseph, Moses, and Enoch, I am slow of speech, “but a lad, and all the people hate me” (Moses 6:31).

I feel increasingly inadequate, relying on the Spirit to distill upon the hearts of the penitent the truths I cannot put in words – ever cautious that I don’t, “by any means, get shaken from my firmness in the Spirit, and stumble because of my over anxiety for you” (Jacob 4:18).

I also understand with increasing clarity why the Lord has said, “Say nothing but repentance unto this generation” (D&C 11:9). It’s impossible for others to receive greater truth from God if they ignore what He has already given them. We all have access to the same light and Spirit of truth, and any person who will give serious attention and heed to that influence will attune themselves to the melody of creation, and thus be empowered to see and understand all truth (Moroni 10:5).

“But great and marvelous are the works of the Lord, and the mysteries of his kingdom which he showed unto us, which surpass all understanding in glory, and in might, and in dominion; which he commanded us we should not write while we were yet in the Spirit, and are not lawful for man to utter; neither is man capable to make them known, for they are only to be seen and understood by the power of the Holy Spirit, which God bestows on those who love him, and purify themselves before him; to whom he grants this privilege of seeing and knowing for themselves; that through the power and manifestation of the Spirit, while in the flesh, they may be able to bear his presence in the world of glory” (D&C 76:114-118; see also Moses 1:2-11).

This same gift and power is accessible to any person in any age of history. Whether it’s our day, or Joseph Smith’s day, or Peter’s, or Nephi’s; it is the same Spirit, available to everyone. This is why, not only did the early converts to the Church feel the same Spirit and power in the Book of Mormon that is felt today, but the same eternal truths that were understood by Joseph Smith were understood by Peter (and vice versa); they were animated by the same Spirit.

As Nephi said:

“And it came to pass after I, Nephi, having heard all the words of my father, concerning the things which he saw in a vision, and also the things which he spake by the power of the Holy Ghost, which power he received by faith on the Son of God—and the Son of God was the Messiah who should come—I, Nephi, was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God unto all those who diligently seek him, as well in times of old as in the time that he should manifest himself unto the children of men.

“For he is the same yesterday, today, and forever; and the way is prepared for all men from the foundation of the world, if it so be that they repent and come unto him. For he that diligently seeketh shall find; and the mysteries of God shall be unfolded unto them, by the power of the Holy Ghost, as well in these times as in times of old, and as well in times of old as in times to come; wherefore, the course of the Lord is one eternal round” (1 Nephi 10:17-19).

My hope is in the fact that despite my weakness, these things can be understood by any person who will give heed to the Spirit, and diligently seek to know the mysteries of God.

I pray we all do, and that my words inspire faith to pursue that course.

Obstacles to Receiving Greater Truth

This is a follow up post to “Don’t Let Knowledge Make You Bitter.”

I came home from school one day in second grade and announced to my parents that I no longer had a need for school. With curious grins, they asked me why. I told them I had learned the life cycle of a bird, and the life cycle of a frog, and so I was pretty much set for the rest of my life. In my mind, I had hit the peak of human discovery – surely anything else at this point was irrelevant.

As humorous and innocent as this memory is, it actually represents an interesting tendency in human nature: when we learn something new, we assume we know everything – and when we assume we know everything, we prevent ourselves from learning further truth. It’s sort of a negative feedback loop that can stunt our growth.

Because this is human nature, it happens all the time. For years, astronomers believed the universe was geocentric. When further discoveries and evidence suggested the universe revolved around the sun, it was met with a lot of controversy (and this wasn’t a “science vs. religion” issue – scholars of the day generally rejected Galileo and Copernicus’ work).

In the scriptures, the Lord commented on how the Gentiles would react to the coming forth of further truth and scripture: “And because my words shall hiss forth—many of the Gentiles shall say: A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible” (2 Nephi 29:3).

A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. As the prophet Jacob noted, “When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves” (2 Nephi 9:28).

Experience teaches us that one need not be a scholar to “think they are wise,” and suppose “they know of themselves.” This can apply to anyone who lets any amount of new information make them prideful – great or small. My observation is that we’re especially prone to this when learning something that doesn’t appear to be widely-known or understood.

I’ve seen this in atheists, Jews, Christians, Mormons, anti-Mormons, political activists, scholars, and more. They learn a thing and are quick to assume they have learned everything. It is the same pattern in all because it is the same natural man.

Like authority, as soon as they get a little knowledge (as they suppose), they immediately begin to lift themselves up. Like Priesthood authority, as soon as pride enters into their hearts “in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved,” and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the [light, knowledge, and understanding] of that man. Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God” (D&C 121:37-39).

The Nature of Condemnation

When our actions, beliefs, and values are aligned to the truth and light God shines on us, we live in the light. We submit our entire will to the Lord’s. This is a state of justification.

When we align ourselves to God, His Spirit flows to us freely.
When we are not aligned with God, we are cut off from His light and Spirit.

When we turn away from any degree of light, we cut off our connection to heaven. This is what happens when we ignore promptings, or try to “rationalize” them away. This is what happens when we’re proud, selfish, or act in any way contrary to what the Spirit tells us is good and right. This is what happens when we knowingly avoid repentance, because we fear the light. This is a state of condemnation.

The Savior observed to Nicodemus “And this is the [world’s] condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth  cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God” (John 3:19-21).

When we resist the Spirit, or gratify the natural man, we turn ourselves away from God’s light. Without God’s light, everything turns into chaos. We do not necessarily forget what we’ve previously learned, but our understanding becomes distorted with time.

Truth is information when it is properly structured by light. When we are in a state of justification, the Holy Ghost will begin to do the work of structuring all of the information we have.

Like all things, our knowledge is “created” as it’s ordered by God’s light. Like all things, our knowledge decays back into chaos as the light withdraws; we begin losing truth, and eventually end up with a bunch of puzzle pieces that we can’t seem to piece together.

Most people still try their best to piece things together without the Spirit, by their own strength and reasoning. This is generally a terrible idea. It’s why the world is divided by a million opinions. When we are not enlightened by the Spirit, our efforts to piece things together will always fail. This is why it is so deeply important that our hearts be set right before we pursue greater truth.

The Thoughts of the Heart

The scriptures frequently describe thoughts as coming from one’s heart. The reason for this is because ancient Israelites understood that the state of one’s heart will affect their thought patterns.

Consider, for example, how being angry or depressed influences your ability to reason. When we allow anger to overtake us, we can’t think as clearly. Our view becomes narrowed in that moment – hence the advice that sometimes it’s good to let things cool off before saying anything too severe, or making any major decisions. When we find ourselves overtaken by depression, our thought patterns will reflect those feelings back to us – we’ll highlight evidence to craft a narrative that supports those feelings. But in fact, Christ (who has suffered all), knows that things are not as hopeless as they seem.

These same principles come into play when pride, resentment, fear, etc., are in our hearts. If these things are present, they create conditions for self-deception. Fear could make us impatient, and impatience would cause us to focus and reason in a way that tended towards those things. Hatred might cause us to overlook the needs and inherent value of others, which would spiral into something much worse. People under the influence of any kind of drug or alcohol think they’re acting logically – until they’re sober and look back on the decisions they’ve made with regret.

The only way we can ensure our sense of justice is aligned with reality is if we ourselves are aligned with reality.

For years I believed the whole battle for truth was in the mind – that I simply needed to find (or have) the most logical and comprehensive argument, and it’d be settled. I’ve since learned that it’s not that simple, as one’s ability to even register and discern truth is inseparably connected to the degree that they live according to it. An unjust person cannot discern true justice (which is the heart of political corruption).

No, the battle for truth is not in fact in the mind, as I once supposed, but in the heart. When we seek to do good and be good above all else, truth distils upon our souls like the dews from heaven.

Discernment

We must learn to observe and discern the spirit in all things, ideas, and people. This is why Christ taught us to test teachers by their fruits.

A lie might be cunning and compelling, but a lie nonetheless.

We need not live in fear that someone will come along with an argument we haven’t heard or considered, collapsing everything we thought was true. If our desire is to be good, then we will recognize those with truth are those who bear good fruit, are filled with light and the Spirit, and whose works evidence such. We will desire what they have, and seek to learn more.

By the same token, we will know that those who carry a spirit of pride, hatred, or cynicism, are not inspired by a spirit of truth. It may not be that they are entirely wrong – Satan’s greatest deceptions typically consist of some portion of truth mingled with error – but if the spirit that animates their conclusions is not one of love, but resentment, pride, or fear, we can know it is not structured by the Spirit of Truth, and therefore is a well-crafted lie.

If it bears bad fruit, it is a bad tree – and all bad trees are eventually “hewn down and cast into the fire” (3 Nephi 27:11).

We must learn to pay attention to whether teachings and ideas enliven us, or cause us to decay. Do they set us free, or shackle us in the chains of hell? Do they expand our world, or make it more narrow? Do they deepen our love for others, or cause us to think less of them? Do they fill us with spiritual light, or merely stimulate our intellect?

We must learn to think about things spiritually rather than only logically. Reason has a place in the revelatory process, but it is wholly inadequate if not given over to the principles of discernment, repentance, and revelation. If you can discern a lie spiritually, but can’t yet break it down logically, wait upon the Lord for further light and knowledge. Continue to trust Him more than yourself, and in time, His light will shine upon your life so as to expel all darkness.

Conclusion

The heart matters above all else in these matters. The search for truth is a pursuit fit for our whole souls, not just our minds. Any number of distractions can serve as obstacles on the path God has ordained for us to receive greater truth. As we turn to Him with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy, He will teach us greater and greater truths for the purpose of our personal sanctification, development, and joy.

The Lord Himself instructed us on this matter in these words:
“Wherefore, I the Lord ask you this question—unto what were ye ordained? To preach my gospel by the Spirit, even the Comforter which was sent forth to teach the truth.

“And then received ye spirits which ye could not understand, and received them to be of God; and in this are ye justified? Behold ye shall answer this question yourselves; nevertheless, I will be merciful unto you; he that is weak among you hereafter shall be made strong.

“Verily I say unto you, he that is ordained of me and sent forth to preach the word of truth by the Comforter, in the Spirit of truth, doth he preach it by the Spirit of truth or some other way? And if it be by some other way it is not of God.

“And again, he that receiveth the word of truth, doth he receive it by the Spirit of truth or some other way? If it be some other way it is not of God.

“Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth? Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.

“And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness. That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (D&C 50:13-24, emphasis added; see also 2 Nephi 9:42; Alma 12:9-10; Alma 26:21-22).

The Word Made Flesh in Us

John described Christ’s life saying, “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). There are a few levels on which we can appreciate this sentiment.

First, and most obvious, is that “God himself shall come down among the children of men” (Mosiah 15:1). Jehovah Himself condescended into this physical world in order to enact physical change. This leads into the second dimension of meaning, which is that He performed God’s will on the earth in real time. It would have meant very little if Christ came to earth and then sat atop a mountain and made no change in the world. In other words, not only was Jehovah made flesh, but the words and will of God were made flesh. As the Father revealed something to Christ, He acted it out.

Jesus explained it thus, “For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak” (John 12:49), and, “The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise” (John 5:19).

In a similar vein, we have been made flesh. We each have an eternal identity and nature, which consists of light and truth (D&C 93:23, 29). As spirit children of God, whose very substance is love, light, and truth, our spirits are composed of this nature as well. When in the presence of Heavenly Parents pre-mortally, the light of God flowed through us without constraint; we freely received, and existed according to, God’s light and word. Because of this, we knew with peace and clarity who we were.

In order for this embodied experience to be meaningful, we must act according to the truth and word of God as He reveals it to us now in the body. To obey God is our spiritual nature and longing. If we do not embody our eternal nature by obeying revelation, then it will be as though our spirits were never made flesh. If we accept false beliefs that tell us that living according to truth isn’t necessary, or get so caught up in studying gospel truths that we forget to live them, we deny ourselves the very reason we’re here.

The physical world is a world of physical action.

The world is changed by the things people do; our lives are changed by the things we do. It is the words and actions of our physical bodies that cause things to happen here.

When God intervenes in the world, He effects physical change. This can only be carried out here by those in the body.

When He called Abraham out of Haran, he promised him physical land. Abraham then had to physically accept the call to action, and follow God into the wilderness. When God called Moses, he required him to do things in the physical world. Israel had to make a physical exodus from Egypt, and thereafter a physical trek to the promised land. When the Savior Himself made atonement for mankind, He had to do so in a physical body, and suffer corporeal pain; there was no other way.

The things that these men did in the flesh has had a profound ripple effect on the world.

This is the essence of faith.

Faith is Truth Embodied

Faith is yielding to God’s word while veiled in this mortal body. Any time God has ever asked anyone to exercise faith, it has required physical action. For example, “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house” (Hebrews 11:7).

Faith is found in trusting God’s word unto action. If God says “build an ark in exactly these dimensions in order to survive the coming flood,” it is not faith to do something different. It would not have mattered how hard he clenched his “faith muscles” in prayer when he saw the rain. If there is no active trust or obedience to God’s counsel, there is no faith.

James makes a powerful case in his epistle for why faith must be something that is acted out in the body:

“What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?

Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?

“Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.

“Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (James 2:14-26; emphasis added)

Isn’t it odd that faith in Christ has come to mean, “it’s not necessary to keep the commandments because Christ did?” Such a twisting of the scriptures is in fact anti-Christ, who Himself said: “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).

In Hebrews 11, we read of yet other examples of those that exercised faith through physical action. A few of these are the following:

“By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went” (Hebrews 11:8). Abraham had to trust that God had an inheritance for him in order to leave home. Faith is the call to adventure; it’s to press forward, following the iron rod into the mist of darkness.

“By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son” (Hebrews 11:17).

“By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward. By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible” (Hebrews 11:24-27; emphasis added).

“[By faith] Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: and others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented…” (Hebrews 11:35-37).

The things Abraham, Moses, and many Christian martyrs suffered, they elected to suffer because of their faith in God. They trusted that the course of life God asked them to walk was the optimal way to live, even if it included suffering along the way. Their faith was an abiding trust that God loved them and knew better than they did. It was total submission of the flesh. Why don’t we speak of faith this way more often?

The Sacrifice of All Things

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This can be likened to the process of building a fire. Whereas the light of God burned bright in us as spirits, adding a mortal body is like adding another log to the fire – there’s always question as to whether or not the new wood will make the fire brighter, or if it will snuff the flame out entirely. By yielding our bodies to the “enticings of the Holy Spirit,” we allow the fire of heaven to burn through us now just as it did before. If revelation remains un-acted upon for any reason, the fire dwindles. Our goal is for light and truth to flow through us again unimpeded.

When our faith in God is unconditional, meaning we are willing to obey Him at all hazards, we will be made partakers of eternal life. There are a finite number of things in this world that will cause us to lose faith; as we faithfully turn to Him in trials and suffering, He will purify our hearts and sanctify our bodies until each of these have been purged from us. When nothing pertaining to our mortal body impedes the flow of His light and truth, we will have overcome the world as He has (Revelation 2:7, 26, 3:21; cf. John 16:33). As the disciples exhorted the early Christians, “we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22; cf. Romans 8:17; 2 Timothy 2:12).

Joseph Smith taught this plainly in the Lectures on Faith. The entirety of this quote is worth reading and pondering:

“Let us here observe, that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things, never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things: it was through this sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life; and it is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things, that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God. When a man has offered in sacrifice all that he has, for the truth’s sake, not even withholding his life, and believing before God that he has been called to make this sacrifice, because he seeks to do his will, he does know most assuredly, that God does and will accept his sacrifice and offering, and that he has not nor will not seek his face in vain. Under these circumstances, then, he can obtain the faith necessary for him to lay hold on eternal life.

“It is in vain for persons to fancy to themselves that they are heirs with those, or can be heirs with them, who have offered their all in sacrifice, and by this means obtained faith in God and favor with him so as to obtain eternal life, unless they in like manner offer unto him the same sacrifice, and through that offering obtain the knowledge that they are accepted of him.

“Those, then, who make the sacrifice will have the testimony that their course is pleasing in the sight of God, and those who have this testimony will have faith to lay hold on eternal life, and will be enabled, through faith, to endure unto the end, and receive the crown that is laid up for them that love the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ. But those who do not make the sacrifice cannot enjoy this faith, because men are dependent upon this sacrifice in order to obtain this faith; therefore, they cannot lay hold upon eternal life, because the revelations of God do not guarantee unto them the authority so to do; and without this guarantee faith could not exist.

“All the saints of whom we have account in all the revelations of God which are extant, obtained the knowledge which they had of their acceptance in his sight, through the sacrifice which they offered unto him: and through the knowledge thus obtained, their faith became sufficiently strong to lay hold upon the promise of eternal life, and to endure us seeing him who is invisible; and were enabled, through faith, to combat the powers of darkness, contend against the wiles of the adversary, overcome the world, and obtain the end of their faith, even the salvation of their souls” (Lectures on Faith 6:7-8, 10-11).

Conclusion

No man having put his hand to the plow and looking back is fit for the kingdom of God (Luke 9:62). Let us willingly climb onto the altar of sacrifice and offer up our whole souls as an offering to God. Let us commit, here and now, to obey the voice of revelation at all times, and in all things, and in all places. If we have not already, let us begin today to yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit that the Word might be made flesh in us.

Modern-Day Polytheism

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.

Seeking God

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).

The Purpose of Prophets

As Latter-day Saints, we love prophets. We love the idea of God speaking to mankind through visions and revelations currently just as He did anciently. We rejoice that the heavens are open, and stand tall on the truth that mankind can know the will of God in any age. However, our unique claim to prophethood has provoked many relevant questions about their role and nature such as: “are prophets infallible?,” “how do we know when they’re speaking as prophets, or are just expressing a personal view/opinion?,” or “if the prophet doesn’t talk about it, is it even necessary for my salvation?” etc.

Though many classes, lectures, and articles have been dedicated to this topic, I actually don’t think it needs to be as complicated as we make it out to be. As with other gospel concepts, this one fits neatly inside a larger pattern of life and creation. When correctly understood, the questions we frequently ask lose their intrigue as they’re replaced by the simplicity of the bigger picture.

This post will hopefully be a chance to reframe and refine our understanding of prophets in light of the Lord’s larger plan of salvation.

Restoring Heaven to Earth

As noted here, all gospel concepts fall into their proper place when viewed through the lens of God trying to restore heaven to earth. In the beginning there was some overlap, as Adam and Eve could dwell in God’s presence. Because of the fall, they were cut off from His presence, and the world was no longer a place fit for the garden of Eden. Since that day, God has sent messengers (in the form of both angels and prophets) to declare His word so that a people might be prepared to again live in His presence.

The first people we have record of who attained such a state of holiness are those of the Zion, the city of Enoch. Enoch declared repentance, and because the people turned to the Lord in perfect faith and humility, they were made pure. The Lord dwelt with them as a result, and when the world became too wicked to hold them, they too were taken from the earth (Moses 7:69).

The second we have record of was the people of Salem, governed by a king named Melchizedek. They too, “wrought righteousness, and obtained heaven, and sought for the city of Enoch which God had before taken” (JST Genesis 14:34). They too ascended into heaven, the world not being prepared to keep them.

When God redeemed Israel from captivity in Egypt, He sought to establish the same thing among them. However, they hardened their hearts and rejected the Lord’s invitation. We read that Moses “sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God; but they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory” (D&C 84:23-24; emphasis added).

The Lord’s highest priority is that His people enter into His rest (or presence; the fulness of His glory). He has sought this from the days of Adam onward, and has never deviated from this goal. This is how He plans to restore heaven to earth; first among individuals, then a people, then the world.

When Alma taught the Nephites, He recounted these same motives from the Lord: “Therefore, whosoever repenteth, and hardeneth not his heart, he shall have claim on mercy through mine Only Begotten Son, unto a remission of his sins; and these shall enter into my rest. And whosoever will harden his heart and will do iniquity, behold, I swear in my wrath that he shall not enter into my rest” (Alma 12:34-35; emphasis added).

Regarding those after the same order of Melchizedek/Enoch, Alma said, “Now they, after being sanctified by the Holy Ghost, having their garments made white, being pure and spotless before God, could not look upon sin save it were with abhorrence; and there were many, exceedingly great many, who were made pure and entered into the rest of the Lord their God. And now, my brethren, I would that ye should humble yourselves before God, and bring forth fruit meet for repentance, that ye may also enter into that rest” (Alma 13:12-13; cf. D&C 76:57).

This has been the Lord’s continual invitation ever since. He wants Israel to become a holy nation, the same the city of Enoch was. The way back to His presence follows a narrow course, and only by following His voice back to the source will we find it.

Example or Proxy?

The role of messengers, angels or otherwise, is to declare the word of God. It is to bring to the people the words that they cannot obtain from God on their own. If they receive those words, they are prepared for more. These messengers can be both seen and unseen, as the Holy Ghost is essentially conveyed by the ministering of angels (D&C 76:86-88). When they live by every word that proceeds forth from the mouth of God, they are prepared to enter into His rest. “Therefore he sent angels to converse with them, who caused men to behold of his glory” (Alma 12:29).

Obviously, such messengers must first be pure enough themselves to stand in God’s presence. It’s vain to try and bring someone to a point beyond where you are yourself. Once you’ve walked the narrow path, you can declare the way. Joseph Smith said,

“Salvation cannot come without revelation; it is in vain for anyone to minister without it. … No man can be a minister of Jesus Christ except he has the testimony of Jesus; and this is the spirit of prophecy. Whenever salvation has been administered, it has been by testimony. Men of the present time testify of heaven and hell, and have never seen either; and I will say that no man knows these things without this.”

The goal of these messengers (and the goal of any missionary on any level), is to bring others up to the point that they’re at. The same way a father seeks to bring his son up to adulthood, so the role of a prophet is to make other prophets. Hence, it was not enough for Enoch to be a seer; he sought to bring his entire people into the presence of the Lord. It was not sufficient for Moses to have communed with God, the Lord wanted all Israel to be a holy nation.

I believe the relationship between Lehi and Nephi is the perfect prototype for how these things are intended to work.

Lehi received revelation for himself and his family. Nephi prayed to know whether or not it was true, and the Lord softened his heart (1 Nephi 2:16). As Nephi persisted in the truth he had, the Lord revealed things to him directly. When Lehi told his sons that the Lord commanded them to retrieve the brass plates, Nephi knew it came from God. When Lehi shared his vision about the tree of life, Nephi sought to know and see those things for himself. That vision was not on reserve for Lehi alone, and as Nephi experimented on the word presented by his father, he obtained the same fruits.

Laman and Lemuel, on the other hand, did not seek to know for themselves, believing that “the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us” (1 Nephi 15:9). As they continually hardened their hearts, they received a lesser portion of His word, until they eventually knew nothing regarding His will (Alma 12:11; cf. 2 Nephi 28:30).

Laman and Lemuel hardened their hearts in the same manner that the children of Israel did at the foot of Mt. Sinai. Because they would not receive what Moses had, they received a lesser portion of the word (a lesser law). Specifically, they wanted Moses to stay as their go-between before God: “And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off. And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die” (Exodus 20:18-19; emphasis added).

The middle-man arrangement proposed by the children of Israel was not what the Lord had in mind for His people. Moses’s primary role as a prophet was to lead them in an exodus from “the world” and into the presence of God. That was Plan A. Instead of becoming prophets and high priests themselves by rising up to the invitation to enter the Lord’s presence, they were content to have someone go on their behalf.

Make no mistake, in neither their day nor ours did God intend for His people to stay at an arm’s length. The reason the higher (Melchizedek) order of the priesthood was restored to the earth was to renew the invitation to Israel to come into the Lord’s immediate presence. In D&C 107, we read:

“The power and authority of the higher, or Melchizedek Priesthood, is to hold the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church—To have the privilege of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, to have the heavens opened unto them, to commune with the general assembly and church of the Firstborn, and to enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father, and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant” (D&C 107:18-19).

Are we, as the covenant people of the Lord, embracing the invitation to flee “the world” and come into the rest of the Lord, that we might enjoy communion with Him? Are we seeking the very thing to which the temple endowment points? Are we following the pattern so that we too may be found true and faithful in all things, and pass through the veil into God’s presence?

Many of us in the Church rejoice at the idea of modern prophets; do we rejoice because we desire to be led into the presence of the Lord, or rather because the pressure of obtaining personal revelation has been “alleviated?” Don’t we frequently hear people dismiss the need to give greater diligence to learning the mysteries of God, assuming that if it was in fact necessary, they’d hear about it at General Conference? Are we outsourcing our need to learn from God directly? Are we depending on the prophet for revelation rather than inquiring of the Lord for ourselves? Do we assume, like Laman and Lemuel, that “the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us?”

From the minutes of a Relief Society address in 1842, we read: “President Joseph Smith read the 14th chapter of Ezekiel–said the Lord had declared by the Prophet, that the people should each one stand for himself, and depend on no man or men in that state of corruption of the Jewish church–that righteous persons could only deliver their own souls–applied it to the present state of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–said if the people departed from the Lord, they must fall–that they were depending on the Prophet, hence were darkened in their minds, neglecting the duties devolving upon themselves…” (TPJS p. 238).

I get slightly concerned when I hear catchphrases like “follow the prophet,” because I believe it reinforces a wrong idea. For one, it’s not a phrase or concept to be found anywhere in the scriptures. We certainly “give heed” to the words of the prophets and apostles (D&C 1:14), but to say we “follow the prophet,” I’m afraid overstates the case (at least it seems many take this to an extreme). The emphasis ought not be on the messenger, but on the message. Nephi didn’t follow Lehi, he followed the Lord (1 Nephi 2:16-20). Laman and Lemuel did follow Lehi because they didn’t go and inquire for themselves.

We are each expected, like Nephi, to go and learn these things for ourselves. Men like Lehi are sent to declare the word of God – to shine light on the path – but none of us are exempt from going and doing the exact same thing ourselves. We must live the way the prophets live; we must know the things the prophets know. “…for God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what He will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them…” (TPJS p. 150).

When the Spirit fell on two men in the Israelite camp who went about prophesying, a young man ran to Moses expecting he would be outraged and would put a stop to what was happening. His response? “Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!” (Numbers 11:29).

Dealing with Falliability

There’s a joke that Catholics say the Pope is infallible, but they don’t actually believe it – and that Mormons say the President of the Church is fallible, but they don’t actually believe it.

People spend far too much time trying to dissect what’s opinion and what’s doctrine so they can know what to lean on. The truth is, you shouldn’t be “leaning” on any of it until the Lord has revealed or confirmed it to you himself. Brigham Young and Orson Pratt disagreed on a variety of doctrinal issues. How do you know who to trust? You seek the Spirit of revelation, like Joseph Smith did, and humble yourself so that the Lord can reveal it to you directly. It’s the Lehi-Nephi model.

Brigham Young counseled, “I have often said to the Latter-day Saints – ‘Live so that you will know where I teach you the truth or not.’ Suppose you are careless and unconcerned, and give way to the spirit of the world, and I am led, likewise, to preach the things of this world and to accept things that are NOT of God, how easy it would be for me to lead you astray! But I say to you, live so that you will know for yourselves where I tell the truth or not. That is the way we want all Saints to live” (JD: 18:248).

From J. Rueben Clark: “We can tell when the speakers are moved upon by the Holy Ghost only when we, ourselves, are moved upon by the Holy Ghost. In a way, this completely shifts the responsibility from them to us to determine when they so speak” (CN-7/31/54).

One important principle to note is that leadership positions in the Church do not magically change a person. Just as a missionary or bishop being set-apart does not guarantee they will exercise power in their assignments, so the same applies to every calling in the church, apostleship included. Being called and set-apart is an invitation to the individual to rise up and become what the calling requires of them.

In D&C 107, we read, “And again, the duty of the President of the office of the High Priesthood is to preside over the whole church, and to be like unto Moses—Behold, here is wisdom; yea, to be a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet, having all the gifts of God which he bestows upon the head of the church” (D&C 107:91-92). It is the responsibility of the Presiding High Priest to preside over the Church like Moses did (like a prophet, seer, and revelator).

When Joseph called twelve apostles, they were all charged to seek the face of Christ, and were assured that their ordination was incomplete until Christ Himself laid hands on the them. The following conference, Joseph in turn sustained them as “prophets, seers, and revelators,” although none of them had necessarily attained those things yet. His sustaining vote (and ours) is an acknowledgment to God and the Church that we are going to assist them in their efforts to become what their callings require of them.

It should be no concern to our faith if those called to any position in the Church should stumble. There came a time when even Lehi complained against the Lord for want of food (1 Nephi 16:20). Though I’m sure those who put their trust in Lehi were shaken by his weakness, Nephi had properly been inquiring of the Lord for himself all along. He knew, independent of his father, that the Lord would provide for them if they exercised faith.

Seeking to support his father in the responsibilities of his calling, Nephi fashioned tools for hunting and asked him, “Whither shall I go to obtain food?” This inspired Lehi enough to inquire of the Lord on his behalf (1 Nephi 16:23-24). Having spoken many things “in the energy of my soul,” his family humbled themselves before God, and were chastened by Him as He saw fit.

We see this attitude reflected in George Q. Cannon’s words: “Do not, brethren, put your trust in man though he be a bishop; an apostle, or a president; if you do, they will fail you at some time or place, they will do wrong or seem to, and your support be gone; but if we lean on God, He never will fail us. When men and women depend on God alone, and trust in Him alone, their faith will not be shaken if the highest in the Church should step aside” (“Need For Personal Testimonies,” 2/15/1891).

The only reason we spend any time trying to draw careful lines around what’s “opinion,” “policy,” or “doctrine,” etc., is because we are hardening our hearts by not inquiring of the Lord ourselves. He has promised, “If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you” (1 Nephi 15:11). Because Nephi inquired of the Lord for himself, he could explain to his brothers the things his father taught. Because he had the same vision, he even picked up on things Lehi didn’t notice (1 Nephi 15:27). The only one who could truly sustain and support Lehi at any point in their journey (including Lehi’s own hour of weakness) was the son who didn’t rely on his father’s faith, but rather used it as a catalyst to develop his own.

Now, as a final thought on fallibility, it’s important to note that the Lord allows those he calls in any capacity to apostatize or walk away from their ordained path. This is not something uncommon in scriptural history, or even the history of our dispensation – nor is it unprecedented for someone to apostatize while maintaining their calling (Isaiah 28:7; Jeremiah 23). Though I do believe such characters will eventually come to naught, the Lord makes no indication that He will intervene to prevent them from using their agency. As He told the Nephites, “if it be not built upon my gospel, and is built upon the works of men, or upon the works of the devil, verily I say unto you they have joy in their works for a season, and by and by the end cometh, and they are hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence there is no return” (3 Nephi 27:11). He allows them to have “joy” in their works for a season; He allows them to test and try His people, but “by and by” something that is contrary to truth will die (see King Noah &co; cf. Mosiah 12:10). Even Judas was permitted to remain among the twelve up until the very moment He gave Christ into the hands of Rome.

This isn’t something that should be of great concern. If we are continuing to lean upon and inquire of the Lord for ourselves, He will direct our paths. There is a profound quote from Ezra Taft Benson on the subject of fallibility:

“Six of the original twelve apostles selected by Joseph Smith were excommunicated. The three witnesses to the Book of Mormon left the Church. Three of Joseph Smith’s counselors fell–one even helped plot the Prophet’s death. A natural question that might arise would be, if the Lord knew in advance that these men would fall, as he undoubtedly did, why did he have his prophet call them to such high office? The answer is, to fill the Lord’s purposes. For even the Master followed the will of the Father by selecting Judas. President George Q. Cannon suggested an explanation, too, when he stated, ‘Perhaps it is His own design that faults and weaknesses should appear in high places IN ORDER THAT HIS SAINTS MAY LEARN TO TRUST IN HIM and NOT in ANY man or men.’ And this would parallel [Nephi’s] warning: ‘put not your trust in the arm of flesh’ (2 Nephi 4:35)… It is from WITHIN the church that the greatest hindrance comes. And so, it seems, it has been.

“Now the question arises, WILL WE STICK WITH THE KINGDOM AND CAN WE AVOID BEING DECEIVED?… Brigham Young said: ‘The Adversary presents his principles and arguments in the most approved style, and in the most winning tone, attended with the most graceful attitudes; and he is very careful to ingratiate himself into the favour of the powerful and influential of mankind…Such characters put on the manners of an angel, appearing as nigh like angels of light as they possibly can… The good which they do, they do it to bring to pass an evil purpose’…

“Those of us who think ‘all is well in Zion’ in spite of Book of Mormon warnings might ponder the words of Heber C. Kimball, who said:… ‘the time is coming when we will be mixed up in these now peaceful valleys to that extent that it will be difficult to tell the face of a Saint from the face of an enemy to the people of God. Then, brethren look out for the great sieve, for there will be a great sifting time, and many will fall; for I say unto you there is a test, a Test, a TEST coming.'” (Ezra Taft Benson: God, Family, Country p. 335 – 337)

Conclusion

The presence of a prophet has never relieved our personal responsibility to receive revelation; we must inquire of the Lord for ourselves. Prophets are intended to show the way – to shine light on the path – but we must each learn for ourselves, by revelation, the truths that they declare. Moses, like the prophets before him, sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God. This is the role and goal of any prophet. As stated clearly in the Lectures on Faith:

“…the extent of their knowledge, respecting [God’s] character and glory, will depend upon their diligence and faithfulness in seeking after him, until like Enoch, the brother of Jared, and Moses, they shall obtain faith in God, and power with him to behold him face to face.

“We have now clearly set forth how it is, and how it was, that God became an object of faith for rational beings; and also, upon what foundation the testimony was based, which excited the enquiry and diligent search of the ancient saints, to seek after and obtain a knowledge of the glory of God: and we have seen that it was human testimony, and human testimony only, that excited this enquiry, in the first instance in their minds—it was the credence they gave to the testimony of their fathers—this testimony having aroused their minds to enquire after the knowledge of God, the enquiry frequently terminated, indeed, always terminated, when rightly pursued, in the most glorious discoveries, and eternal certainty” (Lectures on Faith 2:55-56; emphasis added).

The role of a prophet is to make other prophets. Hence Joseph’s creating “the school of the prophets” for the early Elders of this dispensation. Hence the pattern of the Temple endowment today. Hence the building up of Zion, the second coming of the Lord, and the millennial day wherein He reigns personally upon the earth. Hence at the day, all shall know Him from the least to the greatest (Jeremiah 31:34).

If or when a leader is not fulfilling their role, whether it be a bishop, a stake president, or an apostle, it should not be something that causes us to stumble. As was suggested by Elder Cannon, the very reason the Lord allows such people to occupy those roles is to teach us not to idolize the men who fill them. Whether God’s children are in a position like Nephi’s, with a prophet to declare the path in righteousness, or like Samuel’s, in a day with “no open vision” (1 Samuel 3:1), the responsibility is the same. As we humble ourselves before God, He will soften our hearts and reveal the truth to us personally (1 Nephi 2:16).

Should we begin to live as the prophets live, and seek to know all the prophets know, we would become a holy nation and a kingdom of priests; we would rise to accept the invitation our ancestors rejected and enter into the Lord’s rest.

“Or, Are They All Wrong Together?”

“He (the devil) always sends errors into the world in pairs—pairs of opposites.  And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worst. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them.”
—C.S. Lewis

Chaos and Order

When something is created, raw materials are organized to work together in harmony for a greater purpose – like gathering wood, steel, and other materials to build a house.

When something dies, it’s de-created and disorganized – like an an old house that’s been weathered and is decaying. Where its various components worked together in harmony before, they now begin to fall apart.

God is a God of creation.

From the beginning, He has sought to create, order, and organize raw materials into greater and greater creations. He created the earth, and “re-created” it in a greater way on each successive “day.” Gradually, He took the matter at hand and organized it into higher orders of creation.

Because of the fall, death was introduced in the world. Things began decaying and falling apart with time. Even Adam’s own family splintered as Cain and doubtless others left to be on their own. The human family has essentially been divided and disorganized ever since.

When things begin to die and dissolve, they lose their collective sense of unity. This is just as true on a molecular level as it is on a cultural one. As a compound is the combination of various elements, so is a family a combination of various people. The laws of creation apply just the same, because everything in creation consists of some degree of intelligence.

Christ seeks for His people to be Zion: “of one heart and one mind” (Moses 7:18, cf. Mosiah 18:21). He exhorts us, “be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine” (D&C 38:27). As we obey Him, we are organized to work together in harmony for a greater purpose. Paul describes this principle using the analogy of a human body; not every member serves the same function, but they are all organized to work together as vital parts of a greater whole (1 Corinthians 12). They are one in purpose. Thus the Savior prayed, “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” (John 17:21, cf. Ephesians 4:11-14). He seeks to create something of us collectively – “a kingdom of priests, a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6) – something after the order of the city of Enoch, where heaven dwelt on earth (Moses 7:69).

As we each individually align ourselves to Christ, we all in turn will be aligned to one another. Just as Christ is the head of the body, so must we all submit to Him so that He can use us together in harmony.

As we humble ourselves before Him, we increase in light, and knowledge of the truth. As we increase in light, we are re-created (or “born again”) in a higher way – first individually, then collectively. However, the same thing is true in the other direction. When we harden our hearts, we lose light, and our knowledge of the truth is obscured (Alma 12:9-11). As a result, we begin to fall apart – first collectively, then individually.

Jewish Division

On this wise, Israel was divided, broken up, and scattered (1 Nephi 22:3-5; 2 Nephi 25:14-15; Deut. 4:25-27).

Not only was this the case physically, but spiritually as well, as they divided into various religious parties (among which were the Pharisees and Sadducees). Jacob clearly taught, “the Jews were a stiffnecked people; and they despised the words of plainness, and killed the prophets, and sought for things that they could not understand. Wherefore, because of their blindness, which blindness came by looking beyond the mark, they must needs fall; for God hath taken away his plainness from them, and delivered unto them many things which they cannot understand, because they desired it. And because they desired it God hath done it, that they may stumble” (Jacob 4:14).

Following the initial scattering of Israel, during a period where there was no prophetic voice in Israel, the Jews who remained in the area splintered into dissenting factions and sects. Because they all gradually lost knowledge of the truth, seeds of division were sown. They disagreed on the meaning of the law God had given them, and how to live it. Maybe they spent years arguing in the first century equivalent of Facebook’s comments section. Perhaps people watched as they tried to decide which party they aligned with. Perhaps after picking one, they noticed the faults and hypocrisy of the other – and so it goes.

But who had the truth, the Pharisees or Sadducees? Neither. Though they both felt very strongly that they were right and the other was wrong, neither had retained the full picture. They spent their time passionately arguing about things that didn’t truly understand. When Christ (the living Law) came to dwell among them, they all agreed on one thing: He was a blasphemer whose offenses ought to be punished by death. As the ultimate litmus test, the Truth Himself came to dwell among them – yet none of them recognized it because there was no truth in them.

Only a fraction of the people – those who actually cared about truth in spite of their traditions – recognized Jesus for who He was.

Christian Division

The same thing happened among the gentiles who listed to follow Christ. As the centuries passed, they lost light and truth, which resulted in their increasing division (James 4:1; 1 Corinthians 11:18-19). Following the death of the apostles, there was no prophetic voice in the Church. There was actually such division in Christianity that when Emperor Constantine adopted it as the state religion, He called various church leaders together to debate it out and come to a consensus based on majority vote. That didn’t last, obviously, as people who suffered at the hands of the church’s corrupt practices and teachings began to protest. Most notably among these was Martin Luther, whose critical sparks lit the fire of the Protestant Reformation.

For several hundred more years, Christians were divided on Christianity. Revivalist camps in early America featured preachers of various sects and ideologies trying, quite passionately, to win over converts from one another. People came to listen and decide which party they aligned with. Truly such division was the effect of death, decay, and a gradual loss of light and truth.

When Joseph Smith arrived on the scene, he did something few others did. Sensing his own inadequacy as a youth to reason out who was right and who was wrong, he was impressed by James’ instruction to “ask of God” (James 1:5). And through revelation, by way of a divine visitation, He was informed that they were all wrong.

As the Lord revealed further truth to Joseph in the ensuing years, the various preachers who otherwise fought amongst themselves all took umbrage with Joseph’s claims and revelations. And so the pattern is the same. Those so passionately arguing about theological definitions and technicalities didn’t have the slightest idea of what game they were actually in. The answers to their round-and-round debates had little to do with the picture they had drawn in their heads.

The answer to the division among both the Jews and the Christians was the same: seek the revelation of heaven. Neither the Pharisees nor the Sadducees cared about seeking and obtaining truth from heaven, only to defend and prove their ideology. The same can be said of the Christians. As Catholicism lost light, and in place of truth sold dogma that did more harm than good, Luther and others raised some serious criticisms. We are extremely grateful today that they did so, but there is a reason the Lord appeared to Joseph and not them. Their criticisms of the Church’s beliefs/practices were warranted, but without the complete picture they were just as lost as their Catholic mother. Fortunately, it did foster an environment of questioning and searching for oneself – which would later lead to the restoration.

Seeking Unity in Truth

This principle applies on all levels of truth, religious, political, or otherwise. When we don’t seek truth for ourselves, we lose light. When we lose light, our understanding of revealed truth becomes low resolution or shallow. When its shallow, the truth we’ve received fails to do what it was designed to do. Some serious criticisms are raised – but if they are not raised in the spirit of seeking further light and knowledge from the Lord, they’re just our own flawed ideas.

While there is unity in the Lord’s truth, disharmony always accompanies our own way.

The division is not horizontal, trying to determine “which of all these parties is right,” but rather is vertical, separating those who seek the Lord and His truth from those who do not. This is what Joseph learned on a spring morning in 1820; the competing sects were in fact “all wrong together,” and the Lord had more to reveal to those willing to listen. On this wise was the Lord rejected by the various sects of the Jews, and Joseph Smith by the various sects of Christianity. Those who lose light take many forms as they descend into chaos and disorder; there are a million ways to be wrong, but only one path that leads to life and truth (Matthew 7:13-14).

Moses prophesied that in the last days, it would be those who sought the Lord with all their hearts who would find Him: And the Lord shall scatter you 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” (Deut. 4:27-29).

As has always been the case, if we want to live in harmony we must each submit to the Lord as our head, and let Him lead us wherever He will. We must be willing to lay aside all our preconceived views to learn from Him. If we require God to meet a doctrinal view, a political view, or a social view before we will follow Him, He will not open up to us. If we expect God to affirm our intellectual requirements, or our views on social justice, or our political perspectives – or if God has to prove to us that he is in the image we have made of him – he will not reveal to us His truth.

We must completely humble ourselves and hold nothing back from what the Lord may teach us – because it will likely require us to change. But if we humble ourselves, and are willing to do or change anything He asks of us, He will open up – and His truth will never disappoint.

The central issue is that people are not seeking truth from the Lord, but rather are hardening their hearts against Him. What does that mean, and are we guilty of it?

Hardening Our Hearts

When Lehi taught his family, his children reacted differently.

Nephi desired to know for himself the things his father knew, and by inquiring of the Lord was shown a glorious vision, and was taught by an angel firsthand. Upon returning to his father’s tent, he noticed his brothers had been arguing about what Lehi said:

“And it came to pass that I beheld my brethren, and they were disputing one with another concerning the things which my father had spoken unto them. For he truly spake many great things unto them, which were hard to be understood, save a man should inquire of the Lord; and they being hard in their hearts, therefore they did not look unto the Lord as they ought” (1 Nephi 15:2-3; emphasis added).

As per the pattern, because they didn’t look to the Lord for truth, they didn’t understand it. Because they didn’t understand, they disputed “one with another.” When Nephi asked about what was going on, they responded thus:

“Behold, we cannot understand the words which our father hath spoken concerning the natural branches of the olive tree, and also concerning the Gentiles.
And I said unto them: Have ye inquired of the Lord?
And they said unto me: We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.
Behold, I said unto them: How is it that ye do not keep the commandments of the Lord? How is it that ye will perish, because of the hardness of your hearts? Do ye not remember the things which the Lord hath said?—If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you” (1 Nephi 15:7-11; emphasis added).

Here, we learn the scriptural definition of hardening your heart, which is to essentially cut yourself off from God by not inquiring of Him directly. By failing to seek personal revelation, we deny the Spirit the opportunity to teach us.

Hardening our hearts is always linked to spiritual blindness (Alma 12:9-11; cf. 1 Nephi 12:17). When we harden our hearts against the Spirit by rejecting its gentle voice, it has no place in us (2 Nephi 33:2). Whenever we cling to our ideas, traditions, or manmade precepts in favor of the whisperings of the Spirit, we harden our hearts. Whenever we act in a way contrary to what we know is right, we harden our hearts. If we have unrepented sin or guilt that we allow to linger in our lives, it creates a veil of darkness; truth becomes more difficult to perceive because the Spirit has no place in us.

On the other hand, when we humble ourselves and are willing to receive whatever the Lord has to give us, we will be filled with light and truth (Matthew 6:22-23). As we obey His voice, we learn His truth. Jesus taught “If any man will do [God’s] will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17). Similarly, Adam humbly performed sacrifices for “many days” before an angel appeared to teach him its significance (Moses 5:6-7). With the doing comes the understanding.

Modern Division

As we consider the increasingly divided state of the world around us, let us look to God as the source of the truth, and not the arm of flesh (2 Nephi 4:34). Let us consider division for what it is: the fruit of a people losing light.

As will become increasingly the case before the Lord’s Second Coming, we are beginning to see great divisions in the Church (compare 3 Nephi 6:14-15). As was the case with the Nephites, our division is the fruit of hardening our hearts. This began in the Church as early as 1832 when the Lord declared that the whole Church had come under condemnation for treating lightly the things they had received (most notably, the Book of Mormon) (D&C 84:54-58). As noted by President Benson in 1984, this condemnation still rests upon the Church. For as long as such a condemnation remains, we are at risk of losing light and truth (both individually and collectively). Though we retain the scriptures, revelations, and teachings restored through Joseph Smith, our understanding of them has gradually waned over time. As per the pattern, it’s resulted in splintering opinions and perspectives.

If someone does not properly understand the truth, power, and meaning of a doctrine, they will have an easier time questioning its veracity. If said doctrine does not seem to ring true, they will want to replace it with something better (which is not inherently bad), but may be tempted to insert their own opinions, ideas, or ideology (which is dangerous).

For example, if someone does not understand the order of creation, they may conclude that teaching same-sex couples cannot be sealed in eternity is arbitrary, bigoted, and unfair. They may reason that cultures change and evolve, and that this doctrine is likely a manmade tradition in need of being updated (it may not be that extreme, as there are shades of calling things into question – but I digress). In response, there may be those who likewise do not understand the order of creation, but who react to questioning in fear. They double down on the “what” (marriage being between a man and a woman), but without a deeper understanding, still aren’t exactly sure why. They may even be tempted to insert their best guesses or opinions, but without the bigger picture risk missing the mark. The result is an increasingly hostile and polarized division between both parties.

Something should be made absolutely clear: it does not matter what side of an issue we fall on (political, religious, or otherwise), if we do not seek truth directly from the source, we will find ourselves sifted with the tares. The wheat and the tares are not “conservatives and liberals.” Neither the Pharisees nor Sadducees were correct. Neither the Catholics nor the Protestants had the full picture; they were “all wrong together.”

The ability to reason is divine, but wholly inadequate if not given over to the principle of revelation. What we think is far less valuable than God’s voice. The key is to align ourselves to God in thought and deed; then we will find that the doctrines of eternity distill upon our soul like the dews from heaven (D&C 121:45).

The key distinction between the wise and foolish virgins was a matter of who had oil in their lamps. As covenant people who wait upon the Lord’s return, the only hope we have to meet the bridegroom at His coming is to have oil in our lamps – in other words, to take the Spirit as our guide. If we are attuned to the voice of the Spirit, we have nothing to fear. If we harden our hearts by denying its influence in our hearts, it will have no place in us.

The scriptures speak of a time when the latter-day Gentiles who have received the Gospel will begin to harden their hearts against God, and go their own way: “And [the gentiles] shall be a scourge unto the people of this land. Nevertheless, when they shall have received the fulness of my gospel, then if they shall harden their hearts against me I will return their iniquities upon their own heads, saith the Father” (3 Nephi 20:28; cf. 3 Nephi 16:10). The Lord states that such will be “cut off” from among His covenant people (3 Nephi 21:11), having become “as salt that hath lost its savor, which is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of my people” (3 Nephi 16:15; cf. D&C 101:39-40).

Notice the progression of woes (curses) that Nephi declares regarding the latter-day Gentiles in Zion – members of the Church who have received the fulness of the gospel. They walk a path from being “at ease in Zion” (not searching truth for themselves) to ultimately denying the Lord. Each wo represents a step down the staircase of hardening our hearts:

  1. Therefore, wo be unto him that is at ease in Zion!
  2. Wo be unto him that crieth: All is well!
  3. Yea, wo be unto him that hearkeneth unto the precepts of men, and denieth the power of God, and the gift of the Holy Ghost!
  4. Yea, wo be unto him that saith: We have received, and we need no more!
  5. And in fine, wo unto all those who tremble, and are angry because of the truth of God! For behold, he that is built upon the rock receiveth it with gladness; and he that is built upon a sandy foundation trembleth lest he shall fall.
  6. Wo be unto him that shall say: We have received the word of God, and we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough! For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have. Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men, save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost.
  7. Wo be unto the Gentiles, saith the Lord God of Hosts! For notwithstanding I shall lengthen out mine arm unto them from day to day, they will deny me; nevertheless, I will be merciful unto them, saith the Lord God, if they will repent and come unto me; for mine arm is lengthened out all the day long, saith the Lord God of Hosts.
    (2 Nephi 28:24-32)

This seven-fold wo describes the trajectory of Latter-day Saints who, like Laman and Lemuel, harden their hearts by not inquiring of the Lord for themselves. Like Alma described, “they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell” (Alma 12:11).

Light is receding from the world; as it does, chaos and division will increase (including within the Church). Let us not be among those who harden their hearts in these last days. Let us seek to become one with Christ, as He is one with the Father, that we may be full of light and truth. Should we all take up the attitudes of Nephi, Joseph Smith, and other notable prophets who sought the Lord diligently, we would see the divisions within the Church (and the world) heal.

Conclusion

Moving forward, can we identify ways we’ve been guilty of hardening our hearts? I don’t know that any of us can say we have not hardened our hearts at some point in our lives; we almost have a propensity to continually turn away from God’s way and do things on our own terms. We are still under condemnation for treating lightly the things we have received.

If you have not already, begin to inquire of Him. Set aside time each day to meditate on the things of God. You can start by simply calling His name and letting the Spirit guide your thoughts; it becomes a time to “remember” Christ. It starts a dialogue which allows the Spirit to begin teaching you. When it become a habit, that divine connection will feed and empower you.

Even though many Latter-day Saints will be cut off from among the Lord’s people, the Savior never closes the door to those who repent. They will unite and labor with the remnant of Jacob to build Zion, the New Jerusalem, and the Lord will come to dwell in their midst as He did anciently. He will create of them the people He has always sought to establish:

“But if they will repent and hearken unto my words, and harden not their hearts, I will establish my church among them,
And they shall come in unto the covenant and be numbered among this the remnant of Jacob, unto whom I have given this land for their inheritance;
And they shall assist my people, the remnant of Jacob, and also as many of the house of Israel as shall come, that they may build a city, which shall be called the New Jerusalem.
And then shall they assist my people that they may be gathered in, who are scattered upon all the face of the land, in unto the New Jerusalem.
And then shall the power of heaven come down among them; and I also will be in the midst” (3 Nephi 21:22-25).

“I stand at the door, and knock”

Imagine for a moment the following scenario:

Christ appears to someone and visits with her in her living room. He has withheld His glory from her, like he did with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, so that she does not know who He is. During their conversation, the Lord wants to teach her something. He gently asks a series of questions to help her to begin thinking about things in a new way. As He meekly begins to propose a new point of view, she interrupts Him. She knows what point He’s going to make. She’s heard it before; as a matter of fact, she’s been taught that it’s wrong. She thinks she knows better, so instead of considering what He wants to teach her, she tries to correct Him. She tells Him He’s got it all wrong and needs to be careful about what He believes.

The Lord, who’s long-suffering and meek, does not insist. Though disappointed by her pride, He makes no effort to contend or compel. He doesn’t rail against her, or try to force His point. He doesn’t persist until she concedes He’s right. He doesn’t try to devise some logical argument that will leave her without a response. He just listens.

His Voice

Isaiah provided a description of the future Messiah when he wrote that He has “no beauty that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2). The Hebrew words in this verse imply that He would not be distinguishable, clothed in glamor and fame. He wouldn’t hold any position that was respected or acknowledged by men. Even among the covenant people, He had no priestly office. He was not a religious authority. He was not a Levite, and did not have a recognizable form of priesthood. He ensured that He would not be recognized, even by the covenant people, because of His appearance or priestly status. He ensured that the only reason men would follow Him was because they recognized His voice.

As He Himself noted, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). Or as Alma taught, “if ye will not hearken unto the voice of the good shepherd… ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd” (Alma 5:38).

Recognizing the Shepherd’s voice is just as much a challenge today as it was then.

He speaks to us through His Spirit, which is a still small voice (1 Kings 19:12). He does not compel, but invites us to follow Him.

In D&C 121, Christ explains the proper way to lead: “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile” (D&C 121:41-42).

This attitude is reflective of His character. When He came, this is how He taught. This is how He led. This is how He continues to lead and guide us day by day. He doesn’t intrude, but stands at the door and knocks (Revelation 3:20), except what He’s knocking on is our hearts. We have to be the ones to open up and let Him in.

The Mysteries of God

Whenever Nephi talks about learning truth from the Lord, He always defines it as “softening our hearts.” (1 Nephi 2:16; 14:1-2). Conversely, he defines rejecting truth from the Lord as “hardening our hearts” (1 Nephi 15:10 ; 2 Nephi 33:1-2). It’s clear he does this because he knows how the process works. Receiving revelation from the Lord is always a matter of humbling ourselves before God and opening our hearts to His Spirit. Nephi recounts that his initial answer from God about his father’s visions was a result of God softening his heart, causing him to believe (1 Nephi 2:16). As God continued to knock, and Nephi continued to open, he began to hear His voice (1 Nephi 2:19-24), then found himself in the presence of angels (1 Nephi 3:29-30), and ultimately had the heavens opened to Him, and beheld visions and things to come (1 Nephi 11-14). The key was softening his heart, and not resisting the Spirit of the Lord.

It’s been said that the Holy Ghost can carry the truth unto someone’s heart, but they must be the one’s to let it in. Unfortunately, our problem is that “there are many that harden  their hearts against the Holy Spirit, that it hath no place in them” (2 Nephi 33:1-2). We are often so prone to hardening our hearts against what God is telling us that we often don’t allow Him to get through to us. In this sense, we can be our own worst enemy; we’re so filled with fear of losing our temporal, natural man, things.

Alma taught this principle in these words:

“And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full. And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell.” (Alma 12:10-11)

Jospeh Smith taught that God had not revealed anything to Him that He would not reveal to anyone willing to receive it:

“This principle ought (in its proper place) to be taught, for God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what He will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them

“After a person has faith in Christ, repents of his sins, and is baptized for the remission of his sins and receives the Holy Ghost, (by the laying on of hands), which is the first Comforter, then let him continue to humble himself before God, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and living by every word of God, and the Lord will soon say unto him, Son, thou shalt be exalted. When the Lord has thoroughly proved him, and finds that the man is determined to serve Him at all hazards, then the man will find his calling and his election made sure, then it will be his privilege to receive the other Comforter…

“Now what is this other Comforter? It is no more nor less than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself; and this is the sum and substance of the whole matter; that when any man obtains this last Comforter, he will have the personage of Jesus Christ to attend him, or appear unto him from time to time, and even He will manifest the Father unto him, and they will take up their abode with him, and the visions of the heavens will be opened unto him, and the Lord will teach him face to face, and he may have a perfect knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God; and this is the state and place the ancient Saints arrived at when they had such glorious visions—Isaiah, Ezekiel, John upon the Isle of Patmos, St. Paul in the three heavens, and all the Saints who held communion with the general assembly and Church of the Firstborn.” (TPJS 150-151).

What are We Willing to Receive?

This principle is also depicted in the Star of David. The intersection of the two triangles represents God on the one hand reaching down to us, and us on the other, reaching up to God.

Star of David - Wikipedia

This triangle represents the relationship with the Father that we ought to strive for. This is the ideal. What it does not depict is that often, star is much more lopsided. God is constantly reaching down to us, trying to offer us more and more. Like Joseph Smith taught, the Lord will gives us greater revelation as soon as we’re able to bear it. He is currently giving us the maximum amount of truth we’re willing to receive.

Another way we might think of it is like a cup. The Lord is eager to give us as much water as we’d like. The question is not whether He is willing to provide, but rather if we’re willing to receive. How big do we make our cups? Those like Joseph, Nephi, Alma, and Isaiah, who received the mysteries of God, were willing to receive anything and everything the Lord had to give. We seem to usually approach the Divine Throne with tiny dixie cups rather than five gallon jugs. Can we only imagine what the Lord has in store for those who completely open their hearts? What kind of trust would we need to drop all of our conditions?

Our minds are covered in a veil. This is the veil that separates us from God. It’s the same veil depicted in the Temple, and it has a name: unbelief. This dark veil draped over our eyes prevents us from seeing the light and glory of God. His light always shines, but we must rend the veil in order to see it. Consider the conversion of king Lamoni:

“Now, this was what Ammon desired, for he knew that king Lamoni was under the power of God; he knew that the dark veil of unbelief was being cast away from his mind, and the light which did light up his mind, which was the light of the glory of God, which was a marvelous light of his goodness—yea, this light had infused such joy into his soul, the cloud of darkness having been dispelled, and that the light of everlasting life was lit up in his soul, yea, he knew that this had overcome his natural frame, and he was carried away in God.” (Alma 19:6)

The Lord has also revealed that “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (D&C 50:24).

Conclusion

His light always shines. He is always knocking on our hearts. It is our job then to receive the light, open our hearts, and cast away our dark veil of unbelief. The blessings that await are entitled “mysteries” because those who receive them in full are not permitted to share them with the world, “only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men” (Alma 12:9).

In the words of the apostle Paul, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:9-11)

It’s my genuine prayer we all be willing to soften our hearts and receive everything God would give us. We really do not know what great things God has in store for those who love Him.

Just as Joseph Smith wrote at the close of his vision of heaven, “great and marvelous are the works of the Lord, and the mysteries of his kingdom which he showed unto us, which surpass all understanding in glory, and in might, and in dominion; which he commanded us we should not write while we were yet in the Spirit, and are not lawful for man to utter; neither is man capable to make them known, for they are only to be seen and  understood by the power of the Holy Spirit, which God bestows on those who love him, and purify themselves before him; to whom he grants this privilege of seeing and knowing for themselves; that through the power and manifestation of the Spirit, while in the flesh, they may be able to bear his presence in the world of glory. (D&C 76:114-118)

Reason with Him

Isn’t it great that the same God whose thoughts are higher than our thoughts, and whose ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9), invites us to reason with Him? (Isaiah 1:18) He invites us to wrestle with Him a little. He’s patient, and long-suffering, and will hear out whatever reasoning we use to arrive at a certain conclusion, and then will teach and correct us.

He already knows what’s in your heart. By choosing to vocalize it in prayer, and honestly express those thoughts and feelings instead of trying to conceal them from Him, He will use gentleness and meekness to persuade you to a better way:

“And now come, saith the Lord, by the Spirit, unto the elders of his church, and let us reason together, that ye may understand; let us reason even as a man reasoneth one with another face to face. Now, when a man reasoneth he is understood of man, because he reasoneth as a man; even so will I, the Lord, reason with you that you may understand.” (D&C 50:10-12)

Lay your burdens on Him. Be honest about what’s in your heart. Listen to what He says. He has affirmed, “…I will reason as with men in days of old, and I will show unto you my strong reasoning.” (D&C 45:10) He is the prototype of one who uses persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, love unfeigned, kindness, and pure knowledge. (D&C 121:41-42) He wants us to converse with Him. He wants us to understand what He knows. He invites us to express our doubts, our concerns, our worries, and promises that He will answer us with His “strong reasoning.”