Sunday, February 28, 2010
And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.
John the Revelator continues: "And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him" (Revelation 12:9). The first front of the Great War was in heaven. It began before men were placed on the earth, since we know that Satan was there in the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve first encountered him. The prophet Moses sheds a little more light on the subject of this war:
1 And I, the Lord God, spake unto Moses, saying: That Satan...is the same which was from the beginning, and he came before me, saying—Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor.
2 But, behold, my Beloved Son, which was my Beloved and Chosen from the beginning, said unto me—Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.
3 Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down;
4 And he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice.
The goal of the Great War was power--God's power. Somewhere along the line, Satan became discontented with having God rule over him and sought to dethrone God (see Isaiah 12:12-14). He wanted to become a ruler, a father, a leader of his own dominion. And he wanted to do it his own way.
The issue the war hinged on was agency. Yes, it always comes back to agency. Satan thought he could win by destroying the agency of man; he perpetuated the lie that he could save all mankind without agency. His lies must have carried great appeal to many of our Father in Heaven's children, because a full third of God's children (Revelation 12:4) were casualties of the first great battle in the war over agency, which took place in heaven before Adam and Eve were sent to the garden.
Having rejected the God who created them in an all-out rebellion, a third of God's children could no longer find joy in His holy presence. So our Savior, under the Father's direction, cast them out into the earth, which is where the second front of the Great War continues to this day. The two thirds of our brothers and sisters who chose to follow Michael the archangel and the Lord Jesus Christ remained in heaven, with the plan to come to earth firmly in place.
As for Satan and his followers, they are reaping the consequences of their rebellion; they are completely damned in their progress. They were denied the opportunities for growth afforded by experiencing mortality here on earth. They were cast out of heaven to earth as spirits only, to remain in that state forever (see 2 Nephi 9:8-9). With the damnation of eternal spirit-hood ever burning in their hearts, they covet our physical bodies. In fact, they covet any physical body so badly that a legion of these devils, after being cast out of a man by our Savior, begged Jesus to allow them to enter the bodies of a herd of swine (see Luke 8:26-33). Driven by envy and hatred, they are relentless in their assault on our marvelous bodies, tempting us to either loathe or worship them, or to abuse them in nearly uncountable ways. They know that our marvelous physical bodies are one of the keys to our eternal progression.
But back to the main issue of the war: how did Satan attempt to destroy our agency? The scriptures don't specify exactly, but he could have done it by knocking out any of the three pillars upon which agency depends: (1) he could try to destroy the law that defines our choices; (2) he could try to destroy our freedom to choose; or (3) he could try to destroy the Savior who gives us the ability to recover from wrong choices. I believe that he probably attempted to attack agency from all three angles during the war in heaven, because his actions and those of his deceived followers certainly try all three ways of destroying agency in the continuation of that war here on earth.
Undoubtedly the most alluring of Satan's lies is that there is no law. Think of what that would mean! Without law, there is no such thing as sin. Without sin, there is no punishment and no eternal consequences to our actions. You can do whatever you want, and be happy. You have a free pass to decide to follow whatever beliefs you find most attractive. There is no absolute truth, no standard of morality.
There are countless--countless--voices singing this siren song in the world today; they come from those around us, from movies, television, music, magazines, books, the Internet, and pretty much anywhere else you turn in the world. My precious children, don't believe them! They are lies, every one of them. Ignoring the laws of God or pretending that they don't exist does not change them, any more than believing that gravity doesn't affect you will somehow allow you to fly. By breaking God's laws through ignorance or unbelief you only reduce your own agency and become more like Satan.
Satan also attempts to reduce our power to choose in any way he can. Corrupt governments that restrict the freedoms of their citizens are certainly part of this, and world history is full to the brim of stories of bloody conquests and people seeking for power at the expense of the freedom of others. Can you see why it is essential that we stand up and let our voices and actions support the cause of freedom? We are restricted in our actions and thus are blocked in our progress as a whole nation to whatever extent we loose our ability to choose.
Also very effective at reducing our freedom to choose are the powers of addiction that come from drugs, alcohol, tobacco, pornography, or any other habit-forming vice. My children, you cannot afford the risk of exposure, not even once. You cannot predict how quickly--or more dangerously, how slowly and subtly--the restricting chains from these products will wrap around you, until one day you wake to find that some other thing outside of yourself has a stranglehold on your life. Do not sign over your precious agency to a bottle, a can, a pack, a picture! Determine now never to become trapped by these dangerous substances, and avoid them completely!
We also lose our freedom by the patterns of poor choices that we fall into. Some of these lead to prison or other consequences that greatly further reduce our agency. As an example, consider what would happen to you if you never learned to control your temper, if you allowed yourself to fly into a rage every time things didn't go your way. You would lose your friends. You would lose your self respect. You may lose your job. You may even lose your family. The prisons are full of those who never learned to control their actions. The further we sink into sin, the more Satan delights in it. He whispers in our ears that we cannot change, that it is hopeless, that we were "born that way," that it is "just the way we are." My children, these are lies! You can change. You can be free. The Savior's mighty atonement for us has guaranteed that there is a way to escape!
Satan tried his best to thwart Jesus' perfect, sinless life, to make Him unable to be our Savior, but Jesus gave him no heed (see Luke 4:1-13). Having failed completely at all these attempts throughout Jesus' glorious life, Satan still tries to destroy our agency by telling us there is no Savior. He uses the power of sophistry and plays on our pride and intellectual arrogance by whispering to us that there is no God, no Savior, and no plan. My children, Satan lies! I testify to you that if I know anything at all in this world, I know that God lives; that Jesus Christ suffered, died, and rose from the dead to save us; and that we can repent and change and be perfected in Him. We are not trapped by our past if we embrace the salvation freely offered to us by Jesus. Our agency, however tarnished by sin it becomes, can be made bright again through faith in Him and repentance. Our agency--that precious gift given to us by our Father in Heaven--will be with us as long as we strive to be with Him.
Satan's whole idea that mankind could be saved without agency is a total sham--a lie of the grossest proportions. Without agency, there could be no happiness, no growth, and no salvation. You can never become what you do not choose to become.
Know this, that ev’ry soul is free
To choose his life and what he’ll be;
For this eternal truth is giv’n:
That God will force no man to heav’n.
--Anonymous, Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, no. 240
So we are to become what we choose. That's good news. But even better news yet, my beloved children, is that despite the Great War--despite Satan's and his followers' everlasting hatred and deception and attempts to destroy our agency at every turn--victory can be won. It has been done by countless of our brothers and sisters before us. In fact, there is a pattern for victory set for us in the scriptures, as shown to us by our first parents. It is a pattern of sense and beautiful simplicity. And coincidentally enough, this pattern has everything to do with why I love your mother so much.
Part six of a twelve-chapter essay. Read more: Ch 1 | Ch 2 | Ch 3 | Ch 4 | Ch 5 | Ch 6 | Ch 7 | Ch 8 | Ch 9 | Ch 10 | Ch 11 | Epilogue
Sunday, February 21, 2010
The boy, like to his father grown,
Has but attained unto his own;
To grow to sire from state of son,
Is not ’gainst Nature’s course to run.
A son of God, like God to be,
Would not be robbing Deity.
--Lorenzo Snow, as cited by LeRoi C. Snow, Improvement Era, June 1919, p. 661
Our Heavenly Parents, like any good earthly parents, have one goal in mind for their children: to help us to obtain and enjoy every benefit, blessing, hope, dream, and joy that they themselves enjoy. What parents do not want what is best for their children? What parents do not want their children to grow up and enjoy all that they have? And where, in any course of nature, do you ever see a pattern different than a parent giving birth to an infant being that, if allowed to grow to maturity, will not grow into the exact same type of being as its parents?
The prophet Lorenzo Snow taught this divine, essential truth in a simple couplet: "As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be." This short statement, composed of a handful of the simplest words, is filled with earth-shattering implication to the person into whose soul this doctrine has sunk. It describes, as concisely as possible, God's plan for His children and thus, the entire purpose of our existence.
My children, the importance of understanding this one eternal truth cannot be overestimated. Realizing that we are God's children, that He has a design--a plan--for His children, and that His plan is one of "becoming," rather than simply "believing," or even "doing," makes all the difference. Yes, believing and doing are still essential steps, but it is critical to recognize that the end goal is to become like God. "Be ye therefore perfect," the Savior taught, "even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). Becoming like God requires knowing Him (remember John 17:3), and knowing in the highest sense only comes through both "believing" and "doing"--either one without the other will not yield the growth needed for progression.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks, a modern apostle of the Lord, explained that knowledge in the head (what we believe, but have not yet put into practice) is not enough:
"The Apostle Paul taught that the Lord's teachings and teachers were given that we may all attain 'the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ' (Eph. 4:13). This process requires far more than acquiring knowledge. It is not even enough for us to be convinced of the gospel; we must act and think so that we are converted by it. In contrast to the institutions of the world, which teach us to know something, the gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to become something."
Likewise, he explains that actions without the right beliefs and intents are not enough either:
"Many Bible and modern scriptures speak of a final judgment at which all persons will be rewarded according to their deeds or works or the desires of their hearts. But other scriptures enlarge upon this by referring to our being judged by the condition we have achieved....
"From such teachings we conclude that the Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts--what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts--what we have become. It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become."
("The Challenge to Become," Elder Dallin H. Oaks, October 2000 Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)
In light of such beautiful teachings, my children, you can suddenly see how the concept of the agency of man takes on a profound meaning and weight. Of course we cannot make progress unless we are able to choose what to believe and what to do, for ourselves. For example, think of all the choices you make in the simple action of riding a bike: you choose when and how hard to push the pedals. You choose when to brake. You choose where to steer the handlebars. You choose how to adjust your balance on the seat.
But you can't learn to ride a bike unless you personally climb onto the seat and put your own two feet on the pedals. Reading a book about it isn't the same. Believing that you could ride, but never doing it, isn't the same. Being towed behind a bike isn't the same. Having someone else hold the handlebars isn't the same. If you were on the bike yourself, but your mind was somehow under the control of someone who knew how to ride the bike and who did it for you, it would not be the same. You had to have the learning experience, including all the choices leading up to success, yourself.
But to succeed, you needed teaching and coaching and guidance and encouragement. You needed to believe you could learn to ride in the first place. You needed to understand and obey the laws of balancing on a bike. You needed to know there was someone there to help you back up if you fell, which of course you all did at one point or another. You needed someone to run with you and help you get the feel of riding before letting go--but you needed to eventually have that helper let go. Part of the blessing of learning to ride a bike is the freedom to ride independently, without someone trailing along beside you to prevent you from falling. You had to eventually learn to stay balanced, all on your own.
God's plan for His children also required eventually "letting go" in a sense. There was tremendous opportunity for progression while living with Him in the heavens, but there was even greater opportunity for growth--growth which could not be obtained in any other way--by sending us away for a short time, into a mortal sphere where we would have the opportunity to grow through faith and learn for ourselves that the seeds of divinity are within us; to learn that we can and would follow God's path even when there was every opportunity to do otherwise, when it seemed that God was very far away and no one was watching.
This next phase of God's plan needed a physical space in which to take place; a stage to be acted out on. So God created this earth for the express purpose of allowing His children to come here--to "leave home" as it were--for an advanced, intense, and everlastingly important education. This will make more sense to you when you eventually leave home to attend college, or serve as missionaries, or get married (and yes, you will eventually leave home!). There are certain things that you will never fully learn--about the world, about living, and about yourselves--until you experience them on your own, farther away from home: things you take for granted now; situations you will never encounter at home; and even a love for your home and family that cannot be fully appreciated until some distance is temporarily inserted. Then, after the separation when you someday return, you will appreciate and understand better what your mother and I have tried to teach you, and you will love us all the more for it.
To further enhance our agency--to allow us to truly expand our faith and increase our sense of independence--God's plan also required placing a "veil" over our minds. This veil would cause us to forget our former spirit life in God's presence and start fresh, with a renewed innocence. It intentionally creates a further separation from God and greatly magnifies the challenge--and thus the possible growth to be gained--of this phase of God's plan for our progression. We are thus able to learn for ourselves whether we want to obey, even when we feel that we are all alone.
But with this veil of forgetfulness over our minds, we are not left alone--faith in divine law is still required to spur us into the action that will yield growth, even during our separation from God here on earth. So God provided the Holy Ghost, a Communicator who works according to our faith and desire and obedience. The Holy Ghost gently tugs at our minds and hearts, teaching and guiding us along the path that leads back home. He is there to warn, comfort, inspire, and confirm eternal truths, when we encounter them. These gentle promptings will give us the faith and conviction that lead to obedience, resulting in true knowledge and progression towards becoming like God.
God's plan for our progression here on earth included two essential aspects. The first is the opportunity for expanded agency and experience due to our temporary separation from Him. And second, being born on earth provides us each with a physical body to house our spirits. This body is created in the image of His physical body, though it is in an imperfect state for now. This body provides us with new sensations. It provides us with significantly expanded agency by affording us wonderful new choices related to the laws governing our bodies. Perhaps most significantly, these mortal bodies allow us, in partnership with God, to be able to create children, giving us a chance for the first time to emulate this most precious and defining characteristic of our Father in Heaven.
When this plan was first presented, the most vital element of it--the key to making it all work--was to provide a Savior for us. In taking these two bold steps forward (leaving home and obtaining a body) we would cross into new realms of existence--we would venture into new territory. For one, the enhanced agency we would experience here would teach us so much about eternal truth (law) and help us understand God's perfection and our own comparative weakness, that we would forever feel unworthy to return to His presence after feeling the filthiness of our own sins and follies. As the prophet Mormon taught: "Behold, I say unto you that ye would be more miserable to dwell with a holy and just God, under a consciousness of your filthiness before him, than ye would to dwell with the damned souls in hell" (Mormon 9:4). This condemnation would apply forever to all of God's children who were ever capable of committing sin.
Secondly, after experiencing the wonders of having a physical body, we would feel like we were in bondage without one (see D&C 138:50). Experiencing a taste of such a wonderful, liberating blessing as a physical body, only to lose it without the prospect of ever regaining it, would torture us.
So the firstborn son of our Heavenly Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, was foreordained to come to this earth as our Savior. Here He would free us from the effects of our sins (broken laws, or misused agency) and from death (the separation of our spirits from our bodies). The cost of this salvation is truly terrible: Jesus Christ "suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam" (2 Nephi 9:21). He did this so that the eternal law of justice, which God Himself cannot deny, might be fulfilled through vicarious payment of the ransom demanded by our sins.
This pain was more excruciating than any of us can imagine:
15 Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest...your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.
16 For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;
17 But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;
18 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—
19 Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.
Jesus Christ completed His vicarious sacrifice for us--he "finished [his] preparations unto the children of men"--because He loves us, and because our Father willed it to be so. My children, "Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God" (D&C 18:10). Your immortal soul--and its eternal, splendid potential to become like God--is of such great worth that Jesus Christ suffered all this for you, to remove the obstacle of your sins from blocking (from damning) your progress. It is up to you to take advantage of His atonement--which allows us to be "at one" with God again--by exercising faith in Him, repenting from your sins, and following His example.
The Savior also redeemed us from physical death when He took up His own mortal body on the third day after his crucifixion, breaking forever the bands of death. The effects of His literal resurrection pass to each of God's children as a free gift of grace, saving us from physical death. Each spirit, when first clad in a physical, mortal body, will someday be clothed upon with a perfected, immortal physical body. This joyful news caused Paul the apostle to exclaim to the Corinthians "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" (1 Corinthians 15:55)
Thus, God's plan was in place to allow us an explosion of growth, by catapulting our agency forward through testing in a circumstance of temporary separation from God while here on earth, and obtaining a physical body. The Holy Ghost was there to teach us and gently guide us back home in a manner that allows us full use of our agency to choose whether to follow His guidance. A Savior was provided for us to turn these opportunities into blessings instead of curses, and allow us the means of eventually becoming perfect, like He is, through faith in His atonement and our own sustained effort at improvement.
All was prepared. The plan for the use of man's agency, the power of independent action in accordance with divine law--that most precious gift of God (for exercising agency is the only way that we could eventually become like Him)--was in place. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, the devil is in the details.
Part five of a twelve-chapter essay. Read more: Ch 1 | Ch 2 | Ch 3 | Ch 4 | Ch 5 | Ch 6 | Ch 7 | Ch 8 | Ch 9 | Ch 10 | Ch 11 | Epilogue
Sunday, February 14, 2010
I am a child of God,
And he has sent me here,
Has given me an earthly home
With parents kind and dear.
Lead me, guide me, walk beside me,
Help me find the way.
Teach me all that I must do
To live with him someday.
--Naomi W. Randall, Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, no. 301
Through ignorance, men have offered some pretty wild theories about who we are and how we got here on earth. Only slightly less ridiculous than the idea that the earth is being towed through the sky on the back of a giant turtle, there are those who would have you believe that all creation is the result of random, chance events. They would have you believe that men are descendants of ancient slime that happened to spring to life when a pool of muck was struck by lightning.
The truth of the matter is that there is a simple way to understand the nature of man, but it can only be attained by looking through the "eye of faith." And frankly, in my opinion, believing in the truth takes a lot less faith than believing in the alternate theories.
If you could reach way back into your memory, long before your body was created here on earth, you would see yourself very much alive, but as a spirit only. You would see yourself at home, similar to the home you know now, only much grander and better in almost every way. And you would see yourself as part of a family, similar to your family here on earth but much, much larger--God's family.
It may surprise you, my children, since you have been taught the truths of the gospel since your infancy, but most of the world has no idea where we came from. They read the scriptures--if they believe them at all--that talk about "Our Father who art in heaven" in a figurative sense. They don't realize that our Heavenly Father is exactly that--our father.
You understand what a father is. You have an earthly father, a person, a male, who loves you, who cares for you, and who played one of two vital parts in giving you life. Your mother and I were responsible for initiating the process by which your mortal bodies were created. Likewise you have a Father in Heaven, who, with His eternal companion, created your spirits long before you came to earth. You were, in a very literal sense, born as a spirit a long, long time ago, in exactly the same sense in which your body was born here on earth just a few years ago. You have both a father and a mother on earth, and in heaven.
Eliza R. Snow expressed these truths beautifully in this verse:
I had learned to call thee Father,
Thru thy Spirit from on high,
But, until the key of knowledge
Was restored, I knew not why.
In the heav’ns are parents single?
No, the thought makes reason stare!
Truth is reason; truth eternal
Tells me I’ve a mother there.
(Eliza R. Snow, Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, no. 292)
I do not know why the world at large finds this eternal truth so hard to believe. It is simple enough that a small child can understand it. The pattern of family life here on earth is an exact (albeit imperfect) mirror of family life in the heavens. Talking with your Eternal Father should be just as natural and instinctive as conversing with your father here on earth. The God we pray to is a loving Father, whose divine face you can picture in your mind, because you have seen human faces here on earth. "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.... So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them" (Genesis 1:26-27). There it is, plain as day, spelled out in simplicity in the first chapter of the Bible. We are created in their image, in the likeness of our Heavenly Parents.
For some reason though, much of the world prefers to change God into something that cannot be understood. Either they deny that He exists at all, or they choose to believe He is some type of cosmic power or force, without "body, parts or passions" (The Westminster Confession of Faith [A.D. 1646]) that cannot be understood or envisioned. These false teachings are not in the scriptures; they are the inventions of men who, whether intentionally or through ignorance, have mixed eternal truths up with their own philosophies.
There are many who would suggest that to teach that God has a body that looks like our bodies, that He is a man, that He talks with His mouth, has arms and legs and feet and very much has passions such as love, disappointment, and even occasional anger, is blasphemy. They are similar to those who criticized Jesus for saying that He is the son of God:
34 Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?
35 If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken;
36 Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?
On the contrary, recognizing that mankind, male and female, are fashioned in the very image and likeness of Eternal, Celestial Parents in no way blasphemes God; it doesn't "drag Him down to our level." No, it works the other way: it elevates man.
Do you see now, my children, why Joseph Smith the prophet said that "If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938, p. 343)?
For we are the children of God! We are sparks struck from a divine blaze; and though small and weak, we have the potential to grow into fires so bright and glorious that it defies imagination. And just like I, your earthly father, want more than anything else for you grow up to have every blessing and privilege that I have and more, our Father in Heaven wants nothing more than for us to "grow up" and share in the divine perfection that is His life: eternal life.
If you could remember back to the past eons of time before this world was, you would recall that you were born, raised, and loved in the mansions of Heavenly Parents. You were afforded every chance for growth and progression possible under their divine care. You "received [your] first lessons in the world of spirits" (D&C 138:56) and were saved to come to this earth, at this time, born into this family, for wise purposes. This was all planned and customized, just for you, for your good and for the ultimate salvation of the entire human family. Our family.
God has a plan for you, and a plan for me. This divine plan of salvation has everything to do with why I love your mother so much.
Part four of a twelve-chapter essay. Read more: Ch 1 | Ch 2 | Ch 3 | Ch 4 | Ch 5 | Ch 6 | Ch 7 | Ch 8 | Ch 9 | Ch 10 | Ch 11 | Epilogue
Sunday, February 7, 2010
Let us here observe, that three things are necessary, in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation. First, The idea that he actually exists. Secondly, A correct idea of his character, perfections and attributes. Thirdly, An actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing, is according to his will.
--Joseph Smith, quoted in Lectures on Faith, p. 36
The great quest of this life is to search out God and come to know Him. In fact, during one of the last prayers our Savior said to Heavenly Father, Jesus stated that "this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" (John 17:3). If eternal life consists of knowing God the Father and his son Jesus Christ, then how do we come to know Them?
Certainly "knowing God" includes coming to a true understanding His identity, nature, character, and attributes. The scriptures contain hundreds of verses describing God's character. Among all these, let's start out with perhaps the most important of all of God's attributes, so simply and beautifully stated by the prophet Nephi:
"I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things" (1 Nephi 11:17).
John also records the Savior's words expressing this truth:
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life"
This single fact--that God loves His children--is ultimately the overriding principle that governs all the rest of His actions towards us. It is also really all we need to know in order to begin to exercise basic faith in God. By viewing all of our interactions with God through the lens of divine love, we can better understand His actions and have faith that all that He does is for our own good. The Lord explained this divine truth to Moses when He said:
"For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39).
This simple sentence says it all: God's work (what He does) and His glory (what He treasures most) is the salvation of His children. My own dear children, is it really so hard to believe that? Even if, like Nephi, you don't "know the meaning of all things," can you at least believe enough to know that God loves His children?
Through your relationship with your earthly father, who loves you dearly, can you begin to sense the smallest part of the love that your Heavenly Father has for you? Can you see past the imperfect, sometimes selfish parenting of your earthly father, enough to believe that there is a perfect, selfless Heavenly Father who loves you infinitely more and is also parenting you?
Can you sense what Jesus meant when He said: "Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?" (Matthew 7:9-11)
Can you see how understanding that God loves you will help you through the trials and troubles of life? Can you believe that He only lets us struggle because it is for our own good?
Just like your mother and I encourage you to do things that are hard--like learning to play the piano, or ride a bike, or do math, or share with each other--because we know you will become better and someday thank us for it, so does your Heavenly Father. He asks hard things of us--such as forgiving others, or sharing the gospel, or obeying and honoring our parents--knowing that each commandment He gives will promote our growth and progression.
Just like your mother and I cannot (and should not) fix all of your problems for you--such as dealing with a kid at school who is rude to you, knowing there is an endless supply of rude kids in the world--because we know you will grow by learning to solve your own problems, so does your Heavenly Father. He lets us struggle and search, seldom handing us complete, gift-wrapped solutions that would deny us the growth gained by working through our own problems. It is typically only when we have exhausted our own abilities that He steps in with the next hint or clue, giving just enough guidance to spur on further growth as we act on His suggestions.
Our progression--and ultimate salvation--can only come as fast as we are willing to grow. Growth only comes through experience, as we exercise our agency by making choices in accordance with eternal law and in spite of hardships.
The prophet Jacob taught about a few more of God's attributes, ones that are essential for our growth:
"O the greatness and the justice of our God! For he executeth all his words, and they have gone forth out of his mouth, and his law must be fulfilled" (2 Nephi 9:17).
Justice demands consequences for our choices, and is an essential component of agency. Balancing the law of justice and giving hope to mankind, we have mercy:
"O the greatness of the mercy of our God, the Holy One of Israel! For he delivereth his saints from that awful monster the devil, and death, and hell, and that lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment." (2 Nephi 9:19).
Mercy is also an essential component of agency, because no one who possesses sufficient understanding to exercise agency has ever lived a life free of bad decisions, except our Savior. And it is through Him, offering Himself as vicarious payment for the penalties of the laws we break, that mercy operates. Without the mercy offered to us by Him, the demands of justice would doom us all and block our progress.
The divine dance between justice (consequences for our actions) and mercy (forgiveness for our sins), as set in motion by the Savior, provides a chance for our continued progression in spite of our imperfections. Heavenly Father can be both perfectly just and merciful, because of what Jesus did for us.
Of course our Heavenly Father, like your earthly father, would never ask you to do something that He himself is unwilling to do. God lives in perfect compliance with every eternal law. This state of perfect goodness constitutes his "holiness:"
"O how great the holiness of our God! For he knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows it" (2 Nephi 9:20).
It is interesting that the prophet Jacob chose to tie together "holiness" and "knowing all things." What is the relationship between knowledge and holiness? Alma sheds some light on this:
9 And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.
10 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.
11 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.
So we have knowledge (leading to perfection) on one end of the spectrum, and ignorance (leading to destruction) on the other. To come to truly know an eternal truth, we must (1) learn it both in our minds and in our hearts, and then (2) put it into action in our lives by obeying it. What we learn lives and dies in our heads unless we also live it.
Thus, we only come to truly "know" God as fast as we give "heed and diligence" to the commandments He gives us. In this way, we keep the same laws that He himself lives, thereby walking in His paths and coming to know Him through our own experience in following him. In order for us to come to know God and gain eternal life, which is God's entire work and glory, we must understand what God is like, and live our lives like He lives his, as much as possible.
But how is this possible? Can a mere mortal really live a godly life? And how is the quest to come to know God related to my love for your mother?
Part three of a twelve-chapter essay. Read more: Ch 1 | Ch 2 | Ch 3 | Ch 4 | Ch 5 | Ch 6 | Ch 7 | Ch 8 | Ch 9 | Ch 10 | Ch 11 | Epilogue