Category Archives: Book of Mormon

Divinely Inspired

A conversation I had with a friend today reminded me of an Ann Althouse blog post I read a while back.  She’s responding to a Gary Willis article in the New York Review of Books.  Mr. Willis is uncomfortable with the fact that Mormons believe the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were divinely inspired.  It is somehow indefensible to believe that something so hotly debated, amended, and changed could be divinely inspired. There are a few major problems with his objections.

First, Christians in general and Mormons in particular should have no problem believing that something can be divinely inspired AND alterable.  Take the Law of Moses, literally written in stone. It was a preparatory law meant to point the children of Israel towards the Lamb of God, that they might be ready to receive the higher law rejected at Sinai.

When Christ took the believing children of Israel into a different mount during His earthly ministry and declared, “it is written by them of old time…But I say unto you…” He was effectively giving the higher law.  And the New Law of the Gospel was to be written upon our hearts.  As the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews put it,

11 If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron?

12 For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law.

~Hebrews 7:11-12

Second, Mr. Willis clearly has a different understanding of God’s dealings with His children.  See here for more about Providentially directed chaos.  And as Joseph Smith once said,

I am like a huge, rough stone rolling down from a high mountain; and the only polishing I get is when some corner gets rubbed off by coming in contact with something else, striking with accelerated force against religious bigotry, priest-craft, lawyer-craft, doctor-craft, lying editors, suborned judges and jurors, and the authority of perjured executives, backed by mobs, blasphemers, licentious and corrupt men and women—all hell knocking off a corner here and a corner there. Thus I will become a smooth and polished shaft in the quiver of the Almighty.

~History of the Church, 5:401

We believe in progress, in improvement, and that that process is not neatly linear.  Part of the majesty and inspiration of our Magna Charta is that it can be changed, perhaps even improved.  That process may look like mad chaos, but polishing stones is brutal business.  There’s plenty of room for disagreement about what constitutes improvement to the Constitution, but hot disputes might be just the friction required to make this country better.  Despite popular belief you’ll find Mormons standing on all sides of those debates, and yet they remain faithful Latter-day Saints.

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Filed under Articles, Book of Mormon, New Testament, Rebuttles

Sunday’s Thoughts On Testimony, Conversion, and Being Born Again

Testimony, conversion, and being born again are distinct but related principles.  When we first come to suspect that there is a God, that He sent His Son to redeem mankind, the Holy Ghost begins to work within us.   As Alma taught in the Book of Mormon, the Word “begins to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves–it must be that the…word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it enlighteneth my understanding.”  This is testimony, the beginning of knowledge that the Word of God is good.  It’s not a perfect knowledge by any stretch, but it is enough to act on.

Testimony will lead to a mighty change of heart provided the Word falls not on stoney soil and we permit the Holy Ghost to work within us.  This mighty change of heart leads to a desire to shed the sins of our former lives and be born again.  But as the name implies, rebirth is the first not final act. We are still spiritually young.

Conversion is the transformation process where our fallen selves are literally converted into new creatures in Christ.  It is a process of becoming, of sanctification.  This conversion from sinner to saint can only occur by the power of the Gift of the Holy Ghost.  This is perhaps why the Lord, in His final hours, said to Peter, chief Apostle and witness to all of Christ’s ministry and miracles, “when thou art converted….”  Peter and the Apostles had not yet received the Gift of the Holy Ghost or partaken of its transformative power, though they had felt His influence.

Through the process of testimony, new birth, and conversion our natures are changed into a state of glory, a process completed not begun at resurrection.  Effort is required but powerless to purify.  That cleansing comes through the merits of Christ, and Him alone.

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Truly Amazing Grace

While Mormons are often thought to be soft on Grace, it is traditional Christianity, not Latter-day Saints, that sets limits on the power of the Atonement of Christ.

It is one thing to believe that through Christ we can be cleansed from our sins and made to dwell eternally in worshipful awe of The Divine.  But to believe that we can become like our Father in Heaven requires a categorically different perspective on Grace.

Only an infinite Atonement could bridge the infinite gulf between who we are now and who we may become.  There is no penance mortals can pay to satisfy Justice.  A stone would have an easier time willing itself to become the Pietà without the hand of a sculptor.

But what about all that Mormon talk about works?  A Book of Mormon prophet, Abinadi, illuminates the subject.  He was speaking with a group of corrupted priests and explained the usefulness and the limitations of obeying the law of Moses:

Doth salvation come by the law of Moses?  What say ye?  And they answered and said that salvation did come by the law of Moses.  But now Abinadi said unto them:  I know if ye keep the commandments of God ye shall be saved; yea, if ye keep the commandments which the Lord delivered unto Moses in the mount Sinai….And now ye have said that salvation cometh by the law of Moses.  I say unto you that it is expedient that ye should keep the law of Moses as yet; but I say unto you that salvation doth not come by the law alone; and were it not for the atonement, which God himself shall make for the sins and iniquities of his people, that they must unavoidably perish, notwithstanding the law of Moses.

Mosiah 13:27-28

There are conditions for Grace to be sure, and even the most ardent evangelical believes that Faith, at least, is requisite.  But the conditions are not a co-pay; they add no credit to a celestial balance sheet.  We believe in repentance and keeping the commandments, but neither of these do anything to overcome sin and death, they do not earn us salvation, because without Christ all is vain.

“I say unto you, my bretheren,” said King Mosiah to his people,

that if you should render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you… I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning…if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.  And behold, all that he requires is to keep his commandments.”

Mosiah 2:20-21

To carry on the financial metaphor, we are never in the black.  Nothing we do shrinks the debt.  Christ paid every senine.  But the conditions of repentance and commandment keeping are necessary to receive The Heavenly Gift.

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Filed under Book of Mormon, God and Man, Rebuttles, Teachings of Mormonism

Predestination

Mormons tend to shy away from the charged word “predestination” primarily because we’re uncomfortable with its deterministic connotation.  We favor the word “foreordination” which feels more friendly to the possibility of rejecting the call or election.  While foreordination is doctrinally accurate (Alma 13, Jeremiah 1:4-5) predestination is the actual biblical word (Romans 8:29-30, Ephesians 1:5,11.)  But predestination properly understood does not negate Free Will at all.

To have a destination predetermined does not guarantee arrival.  If I plan a vacation to Baja but stop and visit friends on the way and waste all my vacation days, it doesn’t mean the destination wasn’t available.  My hotel and dining reservations would likely be filled with travelers who may have made a last-minute decision to head south of the border from some delectable oceanic cuisine.  They have every right to enjoy the fish tacos I forfeited.

This is in large part what Christ taught in the parable of the marriage feast:

The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which amade a bmarriage for his son, And sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and athey would not come. Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise:  And the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them. But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. So those servants went out into the highways, and agathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding agarment: And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into aouter darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are acalled, but few are chosen.b

Mathew 2:2-14, KJV

The Feast was prepared for the predestined, and rejected.

Unlike vaycay in Baja, Salvation is not a zero sum affair.  The mansions prepared in The Father’s House are open to all who embrace the Christ.

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Filed under Book of Mormon, Free Will, New Testament

Reclaiming Faith

Faith has become a vacuous word which more closely connotes blind wistfulness than it should.  Somehow Faith has been positioned as the antithesis of Reason in the battle for the modern mind.  And even in the realm of religion it is largely divorced from action and reduced to mere belief.

True Faith is a principle of power and action.  It is the power whereby universes are created, sins remitted, lives changed, innovation actualized, papers published, and all progress realized.  It is more powerful than Reason alone because Reason cannot produce anything but enlightenment without Faith.  But even the philosopher’s journey is a faith-based one.

True Faith is (1) seeing something that may not yet exist anywhere else but in your own mind (2) which is true, and (3) exerting all your energy to see it realized.  These are the essential ingredients of True Faith.  Faith without works is hope.  Believing in something that is false is vain even if you work yourself to the grave to bring it to pass.  And if it is seen or known in some other way, it is not faith but knowledge which does not guarantee actions based on that knowledge.

If faith ceased academia would crumble because research epitomizes acts of faith.  CERN would close its doors.  Even the determinist’s efforts to explore the neuroscience and philosophy behind determinism would necessarily cease.

And the only Faith that can lead us to stand in the presence of God is centered on Jesus Christ.  As Alma in the Book of Mormon put it:

15 Do ye exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you? Do you look forward with an eye of faith, and view this mortal body raised in immortality, and this corruption raised in incorruption, to stand before God to be judged according to the deeds which have been done in the mortal body?

16 I say unto you, can you imagine to yourselves that ye hear the voice of the Lord, saying unto you, in that day: Come unto me ye blessed, for behold, your works have been the works of righteousness upon the face of the earth?

19 I say unto you, can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands? I say unto you, can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances?

~ Alma 5:15, 16, 19

Remember that True Faith must be belief in something unseen but true, and this is true.  So I will envision what Alma suggests and do all things that lie in my power to ensure their fulfillment.

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Filed under Book of Mormon, Philosophy, Science

Childlike

Ever since I’ve had kids old enough to wail in grocery store checkout lines I’ve been perplexed by the scriptural admonition to be childlike.  The more the scriptures expound the subject the greater the disconnect between my own experiences and the ideal.

Mosiah 3:19 says that we must become “as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.”  I’m a decent father, but my kids probably rate a 20% on the Mosiah scale most of the time.  To be childlike really means Christlike, and the admonition to be childlike is a commandment to emulate The Perfect Son.  But that’s not always clear from the context of some verses that seem to really be talking about children.

Then yesterday my sweet, precious Nora, almost 2, came running to my arms after taking a tumble outside.  She buried her face in my shoulder and wept bitterly for several minutes.  You would have thought her entire world had fractured and the only thing that could fix it was the gentle embrace of a loving parent.  Then it hit me.  In that moment she was perfectly childlike.  Submissive.  Meek.  Humble.  Patient.  Full of Love.

It’s comforting to know that we too can be childlike when we fall, when the sting of sin harrows up our souls and it feels like all is lost, when we are weary and can’t move forward another inch or another day on our own strength, and the only thing that can make it better is to be encircled about in the arms of the Father of Our Salvation.

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The Promised Messiah

For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:2-3)

For the things which some men esteem to be of great worth, both to the body and soul, others set at naught and trample under their feet. Yea, even the very God of Israel do men trample under their feet; I say, trample under their feet but I would speak in other words—they set him at naught, and hearken not to the voice of his counsels. And the world, because of their iniquity, shall judge him to be a thing of naught; wherefore they scourge him, and he suffereth it; and they smite him, and he suffereth it. Yea, they spit upon him, and he suffereth it, because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men.(1 Nephi 19:7,9)

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5)

And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.  And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. (Alma 7:11-12)

And lo, he shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer, except it be unto death; for behold, blood cometh from every pore, so great shall be his anguish for the wickedness and the abominations of his people. (Mosiah 3:7)

Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men. (D&C 19:18-19)

God will provide himself a lamb. (Genesis 22:8)

Your lamb shall be without blemish. (Exodus 12:5)

Draw out and take you a lamb according to your families, and kill the passover. (Exodus 12:21)

He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. (Isaiah 53:7)

He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death. (Isaiah 53:8-9)

He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the Lord hath spoken it. (Isaiah 25:8)

death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? (1 Corinthians 15:55)

Why seek ye the living among the dead?  He is not here, but is risen. (Luke 24:5-6)

And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. (Luke 24:36)

Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.  And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands andhis feet. (Luke 24:39-40)

And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends. (Zechariah 13:6)

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