Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Mormon Perspective--Part II--George's Post

(a)  Tender Expressions of Concern:  What Does God Say About His Interest in Mankind

What do the scriptures say about God’s feelings toward those who believe and accept Jesus Christ as the Son of God?     Here are a few of the many scriptures describing those feelings, all extracted for the Gospel of John.   “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.   Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.”[1]    “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”[2]   “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”[3]   “For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God.”[4]  The gift of the Saviour’s atonements was made freely available to all of mankind, but in order to men to take advantage of it they must accept the Saviour, believe on His name, and keep His commandments.    These tender expressions of concerns should not come as a surprise, given the relationship that exists between God and man.

(b)  Yawning Gulf Between God and Man

Mormons, like other Christians, speak of God as being all-knowing (“omniscient”), all-powerful (“omnipotent”), and all-present (“omnipresent”).   God is the epitome of goodness.   So described, it is easy to think of God as a transcendent being or presence—the “Great Other”—totally beyond the comprehension of mortal man, who, in contrast, is defined by his limitations, flaws, failures, and faults.   God and men represent opposite poles on the spectrum of conscious intelligence.    The one the great creator, the other the creation; the one immortal, the other mortal; the one infinite, and other finite; the one perfect, the other flawed.   One is not surprised to read in Isaiah 55: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.   For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”[5]   Nor are we surprised by the affirmation of God’s greatness and majesty found in the Book of Abraham:   “And the Lord said unto me.   These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent that they; I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all….I dwell in the midst of them all; I now, therefore, have come down unto thee to declare unto thee the works which my hands have made, wherein my wisdom exceleth them all, for I rule in the heavens above, and in the earth beneath, in all wisdom and prudence, over all the intelligences thine eyes have seen form the beginning; I came down in the beginning in the midst of all the intelligences thou hast seen.”[6]    God is the “Great I am,” deserving of adoration, praise, worship—and indeed the time will come when the righteous, clothed in white robes, bearing palms in their hands, and gathered in a great multitude will cry with a loud voice, saying “Salvation to God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.”[7]

(c)   The Possibility of Being Co-Heirs with Jesus Christ

Yet, while Mormons are aware of the yawning gulf between God and man, and they do not presume that men are qualitatively like God, nonetheless they see an essential genetic link between God and man, giving them a hopeful vision of man’s ultimate potential.      
Mormons see repeated references to the divine nature of man, and the glorious destiny awaiting the righteous believers, in the Gospels and the New Testament--none more suggestive and evocative than John the Beloved’s startling declaration in 1 John: “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.   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.”[8]   And as the Apostle Paul said:  “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.   For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.   The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.   And if children, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.”[9]   Those changed by the Spirit become “sons of God,” entitled to share in the inheritance reserved for the Saviour himself.  
John the Revelator in the Book of Revelation calls the righteous “kings and priests unto God,”[10] those who overcome the world,[11] those who will reign on the earth,[12] those who came out of great tribulation, whose garments were washed white in the blood of the Lamb, [13] those who will be before the throne of God, serving him day and night in his temple.[14]    They are those of whom the Lord said:  “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.   And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”[15]  What the Lord holds in store for the righteous saints is not just relief from the pain and anguish of this mortality—a cessation for human cares.    Quite to the contrary—the Lord promises them a glorious future, far beyond anything they can imagine: they will eat of the tree of life, found in the midst of paradise;[16] be spared the pain of the second death;[17] receive a white stone with a new name known only to them;[18] be given power over the nations;[19] be clothed in white raiment, have their names written in the book of life, and be confessed before the Father and His angels;[20] stand as a pillar in the temple of God, entitled to dwell in the new Jerusalem;[21] and, be accorded the privilege to sit with the Saviour on His throne.[22]   John the Revelator provides a detailed description of what Mormons think of as the blessings of celestial life, those entitled to come forth in the first resurrection, the resurrection of the just, precisely because they have overcome all things, and been sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise.[23]

(d)  Men Saved One by One; the Ultimate Expression of Individuality

What further underscores the “individual nature” of man’s salvation, even though those saved will be constitute a part of the “innumerable company of angels to the general assembly and church of Enoch, and of the Firstborn,”[24] is the role the Saviour himself plays in God’s plan of salvation.     The Savior atoned for the sins of mankind one by one, making salvation, the most individual, personal and intimate of gifts.     The Saviour suffered for the sins of each individual and, for those who believe on his name, he will become that individual’s advocate with the Father, pleading with the Father to show mercy and compassion, confessing him before the Father.   Not only did he suffer for each, He descended below all things, so that he could understand, by the pains He himself felt during His own mortality, the agony of each man’s  pain, have his bowels filled with compassion, and gave succor.     “He that ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth;”[25]   No one, however miserable or downtrodden his or her circumstances, will be able to say to the Saviour “you do not understand what I had to suffer.   My misery, my pain, and my anguish, is beyond anything you could ever understand.   I alone suffered, and you have not part in it.   How could you presume to judge me?”    And it is for this reason that, when the time of judgment comes, each knee will bow, and each tongue confess, that His judgments are just.    The atonement is totally at odd with concept of a God, who is totally “Other,” divorced from concerns about of weak and flawed me, distant, remote, the “Great I Am,” sequestered somewhere in the corner of the universe, but instead is the God the 59th Chapter of Isaiah:  

(e)   Jesus’ Treatment of His Disciples; Friends Not Servants

Moreover, the short three year ministry of Jesus is filled of accounts revealing the face of a loving and compassionate Messiah—not the Great “Other” who creates the universe, orders its affairs by imposing immutable laws of nature or morality, and then steps aside to watch human history run its course, impervious to calls for help, comfort and compassion.    Jesus heals the sick of their afflictions—raising the dead, giving sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, healthy limbs to the lame; calls upon all men to love their neighbors, even showing kindness to their enemies; and embraces his disciples, neither as servants nor underlings, but as “friends.”   “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.   If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love, even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.   These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.   This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.   Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.   Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.  Hence forth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends, for all things I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.”[26]   Moreover, he promises to give comfort to those in need of comfort:   “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.   Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest upon your souls.   For my yoke is easy, and my burden in light.”[27]

(f)   The Most Intimate Religion

So it is hardly surprising that Mormons think of God as answering prayers, guiding important decisions, comforting them in times of trial.   Some, closest to the Spirit, see the hand of God in virtually everything they do.    We have seen this played out in the lives of many missionaries—younger and older.   Many take every important decision they make to the Lord, asking for guidance.   Sometimes they feel more prompted than others, but they have confidence God cares for them and is mindful of their well-being.   For them they take everything to the Lord—true to the admonishment that they should pray over their fields, flocks, and families.   They view the presence of God’s spirit in their lives as the literal fulfillment of the promise that comes with the gift of the Holy Ghost—God’s spirit will dwell with them always as long as they are obedient and worthy.   Others struggle more to see the hand of the Lord in their affairs, but even they can usually point of several discrete events in their lives even they feel the Spirit has been with them—often giving protection, offering comfort, revealing truth.

[1] John 3: 16.
[2] John 10: 11.
[3] John 15: 13-14.
[4] John 16: 27.
[5] Isa. 55: 8-9.
[6] Abr. 3: 19, 21.
[7] See Rev. 7: 9-14.
[8] 1 John 3: 1-2.
[9] Rom. 8: 14-17.
[10] Rev. 1: 6.
[11] See “________________” supra.
[12] See Rev. 5: 10.
[13] See Rev. 7: 9.
[14] See Rev. 7: 15.
[15] Rev. 21: 3-4.
[16] See Rev. 2: 7.
[17] See Rev. 2: 11.
[18] See Rev. 2: 17.
[19] See Rev. 2: 27.
[20] See Rev. 3: 5.
[21] See Rev. 3: 12.
[22] See Rev. 3: 21.
[23] See D&C 76: 50-70.
[24] D&C 76: 67.
[25] D&C 88: 6.
[26] John 15: 9-15.
[27] Matt. 11: 28-30.