Sunday, February 7, 2010

Wife Rule #127: Why I Love Your Mother (to my children) -- Chapter Three: The Nature of God

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"
(John 3:16).

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.
(Alma 12:9-11)

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

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