Sunday, February 21, 2010

Wife Rule #129: Why I Love Your Mother (to my children) -- Chapter Five: The Plan of Salvation

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.
(D&C 19:16-19)

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

No comments: