Showing posts with label Atonement. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Atonement. Show all posts

As Man Now Is, God Once Was: Did God the Father Ever Sin?

The Noble and Great Ones by godwinthescribe

So the idea that there is a progression from humans into gods/becoming like God came about in the day of Joseph Smith, showing a pattern that would happen often. Someone would come to Joseph with a question or suggestion, he'd embrace it, and then more of the idea would be fleshed out over time as the need for knowledge related to the subject would become necessary for the Saints as a whole. This theology is an example of that pattern.

Here's a brief chronology. And here are the source texts of the King Follett discourse from the Joseph Smith Papers.

The King Follett Discourse is where I'm going to take the core of my answer from because of the explanation Joseph Smith gives in it for how this progression works.

Lorenzo Snow was the first one to approach Joseph with this idea that "As man now is, God once was; as God is now, man may become."

Joseph then went on to teach in the King Follett sermon (which was at a funeral) this same idea, and that it could be reasoned out with Scripture.

There's nothing else beyond those limited comments that have ever been revealed since then. So what I'm giving is pure speculation, but it's based on the comments Joseph made.

Joseph said that in everything Jesus did, he was doing what he had seen the Father do. Joseph then pointed to the council in Heaven and revealed what has become our beliefs about the preexistence. So in the very act of becoming the Messiah, atoning for humanity and bridging them to God by being the demands of divine law, Joseph is suggesting that Jesus was doing something in the act of atonement that has been done before.

If we take this as truth, it suggests one of two origins for God the Father:

  1. He was an imperfect human in need of atonement, same as us, and that atonement was provided for by someone else who was the equivalent of Jesus to him.
  2.  God our Father WAS a previous Messiah/Christ who atoned for his brothers and sisters, and Jesus was chosen to follow that pattern for us. This would mean that God the Father had to meet the same perfect standards that Jesus did in being sinless to perform this sacrifice. In which case, he would've been capable of sin but resisted all temptation for his entire mortal life. 

Based on what Joseph explains in the King Follett Discourse, I personally lean towards the second. I could see this pattern of the Firstborn atoning for the siblings in the divine family being the order that Godhood follows, that Christ is a priesthood office and atonement is an ordinance that has redeemed many before us and will be the pattern of how redemption works into all eternity.

But all of that is pure speculation. We could end up with an answer to this that says something else entirely. I will point out that I've only ever had one other conversation about this with anyone in the Church in almost 18 years. It was with one of the nephews of D. Todd Christofferson when we were in the same student ward together at BYU. I walked into the middle of a very intense conversation between him and some other guys in my ward about this. They got to the notion of "Grandfather God" and he could see the 404 Error screen all over my face. He was very kind in telling me none of this was important for me to worry about and they were just messing around and speculating. You have to be a theology and Religious Deep Lore nerd to even end up here. 

"I can barely handle worshiping one God. I don't need another," is what I said then. And in the end, I think I stand by that.

Holy Week: Atonement

A section of the modern garden in Gethsemane

I've been in interfaith spaces enough to know that Latter-day Saints have a different relationship with the Atonement of Jesus Christ than the rest of Christianity. While the idea that Jesus sacrificed himself to meet the demands of the Law of Moses, what the Book of Mormon calls "the great and last sacrifice," we have a different understanding from the rest of Christianity of when that happened. (See Alma 34:13-16)

In every other Christian tradition I've seen and interacted with, the belief is that Jesus died on the Cross for our sins. In Latter-day Saint tradition, we believe that this act of intercession and our Savior's achievement of perfected compassion in the Garden of Gethsemane. Note these verses from Luke 22:

41 And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed,

42 Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.

43 And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.

44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

For us, this is the Atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. This is what it meant for him to be the Messiah. It wasn't a physical rescuing, although he did that for many throughout his mortal ministry. It was the defeat of loneliness, the conquering of sin, and deliverance from evil that defined Jesus Christ as our Savior. The blood he shed during that moment of intercession for the entire human family—past, present, and future—that would crown his ministry as the Only Begotten Son of the Father.

For me, this dual emphasis on Gethsemane and the de-emphasis of the Crucifixion is one of my favorite aspects of my faith. It allows me to have a more expansive view of Atonement that transcends sin. Our scriptures teach of the intercession of Jesus as an act that grants him perfect access to perfect empathy with each of us, in every experience I will ever face.

Some examples of that perspective from the Book of Mormon: 

  • 1 Nephi 19:9
  • 1 Nephi 21:16
  • Mosiah 14:10
  • Alma 7:11-13

In contrast, the Crucifixion to us is a tragic miscarriage of justice, a product of Roman brutality in capital punishment. That Christ was willing to suffer that is significant, but the Crucifixion itself has no inherent holiness to us—let alone being the focal point. That is why Latter-day Saints, for the most part, don't give emphasis to the Crucifixion in our iconography with crosses. Having spent my early years going to Catholic Mass with my mother and seeing the large Crucifix with an emaciated Christ carved and hanging from it at the front of the room, I do prefer my current traditions over the fear and guilt that inspired in me as a child

When people have asked me about why the pain and anguish of Jesus Christ was necessary, it has usually come from people in other Abrahamic faiths outside of Christianity. Why is that level of suffering required to appease God and to meet the demands of divine law?

When the Atonement of Jesus Christ is reduced to the legalistic demands of sin and its consequences, I can understand the confusion. It's not a satisfying explanation to point to the depravity of human kind and say "It was necessary to fix that." I’ve particularly had wise Muslims ask me how a totally innocent person suffering the consequences for a guilty person could ever possibly be just. And when your understanding of the Atonement of Jesus Christ begins and ends with sin, it's hard to know how to respond.

Latter-day Saints have an understanding that would say instead that Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice simply because he wanted to. He didn't want any of us to be alone in all the struggles we would ever face. It's not just for sin—it's for every heartache we will ever experience, including those we haven't even come to yet. The total defeat of evil and its power over our lives. He has a perfect knowledge of every need we will ever have, and has received that knowledge into himself so he knows how to comfort and guide us. He was the only one who could do that for the human family. Such access requires "an infinite and eternal sacrifice," and Jesus Christ was the only one who was willing and able to pay the price on our behalf. (See Alma 34:9-12)

That's what makes Jesus Christ special to me: he can see the worst of what humans can do to each other, bearing the collective burden of all of our pain, and survive it without succumbing to hopelessness and despair. He isn't a convenient scapegoat, or (even worse) an enabler. He is a friend to the friendless, the hope to the hopeless, and the last resort to someone who would otherwise be left totally alone and defeated in this world.

I have never been to Gethsemane. I wasn't there when Jesus did this for me. I can't prove to anyone else that it was real or that it happened. All I can do is be the living witness of that kind of love, health, healing, and wholeness in my own life because that's who Jesus Christ has been to me.

Everyone needs that kind of friend in their lives, especially when they don't deserve it. Each and every one of us, no matter who we are or what we've done, have that kind of friend in Jesus of Nazareth.

Reconciliation: the Rejection of Penal Substitutionary Atonement in The Book of Mormon

"So you're telling me that Jesus Christ is there to save you from what God is going to do to you if you don't repent?"

I've encountered this worldview many times throughout my life. Sometimes from those of other faiths outside of Christianity who don't understand the purpose of the atonement or the need for a Savior. Other times, it's from atheists or disaffected members who give it as a justification for their non-belief. The Book of Mormon contradicts penal substitutionary atonement and its underpinnings in some pretty significant ways, so I wanted to lay those out. The portions that went into this particular take down are in 2 Nephi 2 and 9, as well as Alma 12 and 34.

In this worldview, divine law and sin exist solely as the mechanisms for being punished and rejected by God. The atonement of Jesus Christ, as a result, saves people not from sin or Satan, but from a God who is tallying our wrongs to exact a punishment. The only thing stopping this God is the mercy of Christ, who nullifies the consequences of our actions through his own torment and suffering. We learn nothing, Christ suffers, and a violent God is appeased by watching an innocent man die.

Let's unpack all of this so we can throw it away because it's inaccurate theology that misunderstands and taints pretty much everything it touches.

Divine law does not exist to catch us in wrong doing, to provide the rules by which God can punish us without restraint. That's a projection onto God from the experience of dealing with horrible people. They may do this to us, but God does not.

A great way to prove this is to look at what sin actually is. Something doesn't become sinful "just because God said so." Sin, by definition, is anything that causes "temporal death" or "spiritual death." If it doesn't cause physical harm or distance us from God, it's not a sin. This is actually a really good standard for discerning and judging whether something that is being called sinful comes from God or not.

Murder? Physical harm. Sin.

Idolatry? Spiritual harm. Sin.

Refusing to ever identify myself as a Mormon or LDS again, even though they're accurate labels for myself, because of concerns and scruples I don't care about, and for a spiritual benefit that is dubious at best?

Am I saying that prophets and members of the Church have so polluted the notion of sin with their own prejudices and biases that what makes something sinful has completely gotten lost in a sea of crap that was never sinful at all?

Yes. Yes, I am.

Why is this important for answering the question of whether we have a vengeful God and a pushover Christ?

Because it means that the laws and standards by which we're trying to judge the motivations of God have been polluted by human nonsense. It means that the transactional relationship where God and Christ fight over us using fine print and technicalities is as broken as it sounds, and we're not bound by anything that relies upon that as a justification because it just isn't true. It means that if this dysfunctional relationship is what you were taught by family, church leaders, and other members of the Church, you've been taught blasphemy that doesn't even come close to being accurate.

It's impossible to repent of something that isn't sinful. That's why no matter how much you do it, it will never bring peace.

So if transactional atonement is the vestigial anxieties of Calvinism being passed along through generational trauma and it belongs in the dumpster, how should we view the atonement of Jesus Christ instead? What are God's motivations towards us if not to cause misery through setting impossible standards we'll never be able to meet?

God sent us here, in a variety of circumstances, to learn one lesson: to obtain knowledge of good and evil. More specifically, we're here to learn good from evil, and to consistently choose that which is good. We're here to have free will, to use and exercise agency. God gave us the ability to make our own choices, to know ourselves and to seek our own joy.

That's it. That's the plan.

Why is Jesus Christ necessary for God's plan? Because giving self-determination to the entire human family inevitably leads to suffering that we cannot overcome or undo the damage from on our own. We need someone to teach us how to be reconciled to God and to each other.

To put it simply, we have a Savior because we need him. We need him to teach us how to choose between good and evil in a way that no other person can. We need someone who can teach us to right wrongs, to heal wounds, to break generational curses in ways only he could do. He's not an enabler or a pushover. He is the one we depend on to teach us reconciliation. This isn't making that which is wrong or evil magically disappear. It's to resolve conflict and to be fully received again in love.

God is love. Love permeates everything God does. If love is absent, or needs to be redefined or contorted into something that neither looks nor feels like love, then it's not love. And if it's not love, then it's not from God.

Jesus Christ is the embodiment and evidence of God's love for us. That's it. There is no other reason or motivation for us to have a Savior. He doesn't just deliver us from sin. He delivers us to a greater capacity to love God and our neighbors as ourselves. He brings peace to us, the spirit of reconciliation, to everything we do.

Another Easter During COVID-19

Arm of Mercy, Kevin Figueira
The same family that took my family's sacrament access away, with their ultimatum to return in person or go without, used the pulpit today during Easter to chastise those of us who continue to social distance by admonishing us to return.

One of the costs of being in community with others who are seeking divinity is having your worship, your communion with God, the prayers you were looking to have answered, derailed by others who place their own issues in your lap.

Especially from former leadership who will not fight the compulsion to steady the ark, to relinquish authority they no longer possess to correct the congregation, this can be especially difficult. It can leave you asking, "Why do I bother to try?"

Here is the answer I find myself giving today on Easter Sunday: because sin is not the only thing I need Jesus Christ to save me from. And it is was always part of the divine plan for me to pray for my God to also save me from anything that devalues my safety and threatens my peace, including this.

The Saints in the pews beside me are not my judges. They do not know my heart or my circumstances.They have not seen what disease and illness has already done to my family throughout the pandemic. They do not know our risks. They do not know our struggles. It is not for them to read irreverence or disobedience into my motives. It is not for them to decide that my worship, my contributions, or my offerings in my home are subpar in comparison to theirs because they attend Church in person and I don't.

That kind of behavior is the real irreverence. They've distracted themselves from their own worship to worry excessively about the behavior of others. That is not what church meetings are for.

So on the day when I needed God to assist me in deepening my love, patience, and desire to serve those in my family whose behavior in life made them difficult to love, I now have to spend time dealing with this. 

My Easter message is: Never be the person who does this to others. Celebrate the power, the majesty of Jesus Christ and his atoning sacrifice by never becoming the opposition someone else needs to pray to be saved from.  

And if you find yourself in that position today, I pray in the holy name of Jesus Christ that we can receive the spiritual gift of faith sufficient to be unbothered, undisturbed by such people. May we be blessed not to believe what those fools are gonna say about us today. May we find and claim the comfort and peace that passes all understanding. It's what we all need and what you deserve, no matter what anybody says.

Happy Easter, my friends.


Bearing testimony of our Savior is the privilege of my life and the calling of my generation. This blog would be of little or no use to anyone if it ever deviated too far from the miracles and majesty of Jesus Christ. Because of that, I want to deal directly with the topic of Christ now, and share the heart of his gospel message.

After Christ performed the powerful miracle of the Atonement and was crucified, we read in John 19: 30 that after he had finished everything he had set out to do in his mortality, "he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost." Leaving this world in perfect submission, He gave his life and his power, bore the burden of our sin and mortality... surrounded by the vilest of hellions and in the face of complete and total despair, Christ performed a perfect sacrifice by offering everything He had ever earned as a payment for our salvation and exaltation.

Why? Because He loves us with a perfect love. He loves all life, and believes fundamentally and fiercely that life should continue--that our lives should continue. He believes each and every one of us have purpose, meaning, and something of infinite worth to contribute to the kingdom of God. In short, He believes in the divinity that is within all of us, and because He has seen what that divinity can become, He doesn't want us to settle for anything less than the perfect joy of our Father in Heaven.

We read in Ether 12: 7 the following:

For it was by faith that Christ showed himself unto our fathers, after he had risen from the dead; and he showed not himself unto them until after they had faith in him; wherefore, it must needs be that some had faith in him, for he showed himself not unto the world. 

Akin to that though is this portion from 2 Nephi 2: 8:

...there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise.

These scriptures tell us that after the Resurrection, Christ no longer had to appear to anyone who did not have faith in Him. As Zion's builders, we have to understand this crucial information to rise to our fullest potential in these latter days.

If we want to perform our latter-day mission to build Zion and have Christ return and claim her unto Himself, we must be a body of people who believes completely and lovingly in His Resurrection. In the Church, it's easy to focus so much on the Atonement that we forget that it would have been incomplete without the Resurrection. But we must grow beyond this lack of understanding.

Think about it. If Christ had offered to cleanse our lives without ever taking up His life again, we'd still be damned. Death would still hold us captive, halting the plan between birth and rebirth. Our earth could never be exalted and heaven could never come to us. The dead might be redeemed, but they'd never be resurrected. If they were never resurrected, they could never inherit the kingdom and glory of the Father, becoming heirs of salvation with Christ. Zion would never truly come forth, would never fully put on her beautiful garments of priesthood power. (D&C 113: 7-8) We as latter-day servants would not be able to finish the work we were assigned--to build Zion--if it wasn't for the Atonement and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The house of Israel must be redeemed, and we will bring the gospel to them through our testimonies of Jesus Christ as His ordained servants. Our faith in His Atonement and Resurrection will make it possible for us to regain His presence. In a world that seems to believe more and more fully each day that only seeing is believing, we must remember the power of faith--for this is the only way to appreciate the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

May we more fully become valiant saints of that testimony together, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Zion: It starts with Me

Good morning roommate... no really! I don't mind if you wake me up! I would actually find it more offensive if you had any doubt whatsoever if it's OK to wake me up for church.

MMM. Homemade apple sauce for breakfast. I love when I can eat the things I cook. :)

Wow. Is this what being early to Church looks like at BYU? We're only 15 minutes early and the room is empty. Even the bishopric isn't here yet. Gotta love Mormon Standard Time.

I don't LIKE being released from callings! I never know whether to raise my own hand for the vote of thanks when I'm the only one being released!

Sacrament Hymn 185: Reverently and Meekly Now

I have ransomed even thee... 

I never thought of myself as being kidnapped, but in a real sense that's very true. I am as trapped by mortality as I feel sometimes... but my Lord paid the price to set me free. And not in some esoteric future either. Right here. Right now.

I am free.

Oh wow... what is this feeling?

At the throne I intercede;
For thee ever do I plead.
I have loved thee as thy friend,
With a love that cannot end.
Be obedient, I implore,
Prayerful, watchful evermore,
And be constant unto me,
That thy Savior I may be.

At last, heavy tears gather on my lashes. They fall slowly, clinging to my face the whole way down before landing softly in my lap.

I wipe them away as I take my piece of bread, the largest I can see, and wonder with a faint smile if that's how I get myself into these situations.

Drip. Drop. Drip.

I have needed these tears. I could do nothing to give my grief to them--Lord knows I've tried--and I could not bring myself to drink the gall of my own struggle. I simply watched the cup fill to brim, then overflowing... 

When, at last, my soul is touched.

And as I looked again, the weight of waiting appeared as a tiny plastic cup before my eyes! How I rejoiced, just as silently as I had suffered! 

Dear God, I thank thee! I thank thee...

Subject for talks: Testimony

"No one has a testimony so strong that if they stopped working on it, it would continue to grow." Speaker

"Life is not easy because salvation is not a cheap experience," Speaker likening Elder Holland's statement on missionary work to cultivating a testimony.

Bishop then tells us we're combining for Sunday school and Relief Society and asks us not to leave. They have a special message for us.

Joshua 1: 9. Isn't that the Mutual Theme?.... YUP! Oh boy, I called it! High five roommate! Yeah!

Bishop didn't know that was the Mutual Theme? That's funny.

Bishopric takes turn addressing us. They're basically giving us step by step instructions on how to build Zion, but they Just. Aren't. Saying. That!

I raise my hand and point out the reference to the promised land in the chapter heading.

Bishop asks "And what is the promised land?" Someone say Zion!  "Eternal life." Well, that answer is so good I'm not going to argue with it. They'll figure it out eventually.

For now, I can be content knowing that I see what's coming. I am Zion, and my contribution to Zion begins with me. I should do more reading on the subject. I suspect that the timing of the Savior's coming is unknown because the time has not been set; rather, it depends on how long it will take us all to build Zion so we can present the Church of the Lamb to the Lamb. But that's just my working theory for now.

Until then, Zion starts with me, and I start here:
"Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again." Luke 6: 38

Continuing Faithfulness in Times of Struggle

There is a crucial truth that every member and non-member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints must come to realize; one that is not on, but is embodied in, the following list:
  • The Bible does not save you from the darkness of this world.
  • The Book of Mormon does not save you from your sins.
  • No membership in any church ever established--no, not even our Church--can save you from Satan and his minions.
  • The prophets and teachers of this church cannot remove the temptations that so easily beset us all.
  • Eternal life does not come simply because we ask for it, or even demand it.
Where, then, can we turn for salvation? How do we obtain safety for our souls? How can we be cleansed from all our guilt? How can our burdens be lifted, and our hearts healed? How can we conquer the adversary and his minions when they bombard us with temptations to do things that would make us cringe in the presence of God?

How do we obtain eternal life?

Our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, willingly atoned for all of our sins. He gave us scripture that we might remember Him, have His Spirit to be with us, and learn His commandments that we might know how to follow Him. The purpose of His Church is to provide His ordinances, and to receive His guidance through His chosen servants on how to return to Him again.

In every aspect of discipleship, Christ is at the center.

At times, it's easy to become complacent--to read our scriptures and make no contact with Christ whatsoever. It's easy to partake of ordinances like the Sacrament and make no connection to Christ. It's possible to be given council from His chosen prophets, apostles, teachers, leaders, and friends without ever seeing the image of Christ in their countenances, to focus on their faults instead of their message.

How can they lead me and save me when they're so imperfect? we might ask at such times.

The answer being: they were never supposed to save you. Perfection was never their purpose.

Jesus Christ is our Savior

He alone atoned for our sins in the garden of Gethsemane, was betrayed into the hands of the Sanhedrin, was scourged, and collapsed beneath the weight of the cross on which he would soon die.

A cross to bear... do we remember that story when we struggle? When we're tempted to look for an easier way in apostasy, or oblivion?
26 And as they led him away, they laid hold upon one Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross, that he might bear it after Jesus. (Luke 23)
Jesus spoke often of bearing his cross and following him. He spoke of it prophetically--and always in regards to discipleship. The question here does not seem to be "If I am picked to bear His cross, will I do it?" That the moment will come is a certainty. When that moment comes, when we are grabbed at random to take up that cross and be a disciple in very deed, even when we barely know Christ and we are suddenly called to pick up that cross... we find that different questions emerge...

Will I stagger before this is over?

Will I fall, and disappoint everyone who has come to know me as a Christian?

What am I doing here?

Why are these people yelling at me and taunting me?

Why did they pick me when I never asked for this?

When will it end?

Where is the comfort He promised me?

Is there no other way?

O God, where art thou?

Is there a way to give up before the journey is over?

My life has taught me something about discipleship. The way to eternal life is beneath a cross. There is no escaping once you've begun, and no lasting peace anywhere else ever again. There is nowhere to hide, no way to return to neutral ground. We may try to put down that cross and walk away from it, but that cross will never leave us.

Why? Because an infinite and eternal sacrifice was made on that cross by Jesus Christ. Time does not remove the permanence of that act, and it stands for us--covered in innocent blood--whether we choose to carry it or not.

If we carry the cross, the blood atones for us and "through his stripes we are healed." (Isaiah 53: 5)

If we choose not to carry that cross, we must atone for our own sins--suffer infinitely and eternally for our denial of His sacrifice, "grasped with death, and hell; and death, and hell, and the devil, and all that have been seized therewith must stand before the throne of God, and be judged according to their works, from whence they must go into the place prepared for them, even a lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment." (2 Nephi 28: 23)

When we are called, we must answer. And we have a choice to make. Do we follow and obtain glory, or deny and suffer?...

I once heard a question asked, and it was phrased "Why did Jesus weep?"

When we know the answer to that question, when we take it into our hearts, and feel it--when we know its weight and carry it in our hearts like the cross it is, apostasy is no longer an option.

Only then can we arrive at the empty tomb and know what it means.

Why I Believe in Jesus Christ

Because the Resurrection is Not a Fable

Each of us will have our own Fridays--those days when the universe itself seems shattered and the shards of our world lie littered about us in pieces. We all will experience those broken times when it seems we can never be put together again. We will all have our Fridays.

But I testify to you in the name of the One who conquered death--Sunday will come. In the darkness of our sorrow, Sunday will come.

No matter our desperation, no matter our grief, Sunday will come. In this life or in the next, Sunday will come.

I testify to you that the Resurrection is not a fable. We have the personal testimonies of those who saw Him. Thousands in the Old and New Worlds witnessed the risen Savior. They felt the wounds in His hands, feet, and side. They shed tears of unrestrained joy as they embraced Him.

Joseph B. Wirthlin, "Sunday Will Come," Ensign, Nov. 2006, 30

Easter: A Youth Talk

Easter is a special time of year when we think about the life and mission of the Savior; but in order to fully appreciate His life and mission, we must begin with the Old Testament, and the time before He came to earth.

I want to begin with a story in Joshua 4 of the twelve stones. The Israelites were following Joshua into the Promised Land, and Ark of the Covenant had just been taken through the waters of the Jordan River on foot.
5 And Joshua said unto them, Pass over before the ark of the Lord your God
into the midst of Jordan, and take ye up every man of you a stone upon his
shoulder, according unto the number of the tribes of the children of Israel:

6 That this may be a sign among you, that when
your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean ye by these

7 Then ye shall answer them, That the
waters of Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when
it passed over Jordan, the waters of Jordan were cut off: and these stones shall
be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever.
Think of the fear the Israelites must have felt. These were the people that Moses had led out of Egypt, and Moses had just died. Joshua was their leader now, and his people were no doubt feeling grief and uncertainty—similar to how some of us might have felt when Gordon B. Hinckley died. And to get to the Promised Land—the reason their fathers and grandfathers had been wandering in the desert for forty years—they had to take the Ark of the Covenant over the Jordan River. The Ark was the most important thing any of them possessed; without it, the children of Israel would not be able to repent of their sins. But God gave them the Ark in order to be forgiven of their sins, and He did not take that away from them. He provided a way for the Ark to cross the river. The Lord wanted His people to teach the miracle of the Jordan River to their children, and instructed them to take 12 stones that they might remember the story.

Similarly, in the Book of Mormon, we read of Nephi and his two brothers Laman and Lemuel who were told by their father to retrieve the brass plates from Laban because it contained a history of their ancestors. They asked for the plates, and even offered to pay for them, and Laban bested them each time. Finally they knew they had to break in and take them—which looks an awful lot like stealing, and I’m sure that bothered Nephi because he wants to do what’s right. But the Lord has always taught his people to remember their history because it’s more than names engraved on metal plates, and Lehi’s family could not leave for the American continent without taking their history with them. Nephi and his brothers were able to retrieve their history that they might have their story to teach to their children in a new world.

To be a servant of Heavenly Father, and a follower of Christ, you have to care a lot about stories. And it has been that way for longer than we may realize. Think of David, Jacob, Ruth, Deborah, and all of the Old Testament and Book of Mormon figureheads that relied on stories and traditions to learn about their God. But these traditions and stories also served the generations of others who were never mentioned by name; the people who were never swallowed by a whale, crossed an ocean, or conquered a giant. Instead, they were every-day people who made their faith out of the stories they were taught by their families and tribes. These were the people that lived on promises from Heavenly Father, but died before they ever had a chance to receive them. A few examples include:

In Isaiah 9, the Prophet Isaiah prophesies of the Savior’s birth; and in Isaiah 29, he tells his people about the Book of Mormon and the Restoration of the Gospel through Joseph Smith. These are perhaps the most important prophecies to Christendom today, and the people who received the actual promise never got to see them fulfilled in their lives.

In that respect, are they really so different from us today? As Latter-day Saints, we believe in Jesus Christ’s entire ministry, including the time He preached on the American continent—even though we’ve never seen Him with our own eyes. We are preparing for His Second Coming because our prophets have told us that we are in the last dispensation. We are preparing ourselves to be worthy of our full inheritance of Our Father’s kingdom. Like the people of the pre-Christian world, we endure in good faith on a promise. And while that may be our only certainty, our scriptures testify to us again and again that enduring on a promise is not a waste.

We can know this because we have something the peoples of the pre-Christian world never had: access to their stories, plus so many others; including four gospels of the Savior’s life. Do we ever stop to think about how blessed we are for those four books alone? How many people spoken of in the Old Testament would have paid any price to have the words of the Messiah? And when we do not read them, we are not taking advantage of the knowledge that is supposed to help us with our task in this life: the task of writing stories of our own.

In Doctrine and Covenants 76, we read of how those who inherit a Celestial glory, the highest degree of Heaven; “These are they whose names are written in heaven, where God and Christ are the judge of all.”

We have been taught by our prophets that our lives—our thoughts and actions—are all being recorded in Heaven, and by those books, our own books of scripture with our names on them, shall our Father judge us, and our Savior redeem us. And in Doctrine & Covenants 127, we learn that these books are bound to us and “whatsoever you bind on earth, may be bound in heaven; whatsoever you loose on earth, may be loosed in heaven.”

Personally, that idea is really daunting for me. There are aspects of my past I don’t WANT bound to me. And then of course, there’s my family—the people I love as much as I can for as long as possible, but we are just too different from each other. We’re lucky if we can go to the movies without being thrown out. What if I just can’t see us being bound to together for eternity?

Our Savior is always there to guide us through even the most private struggles. If we look to those Old Testament promises again, this time in Jeremiah 29, we read the promises God makes the Jews before they’re taken into captivity:
10 For thus saith the Lord, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place.
11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.
12 Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.
13 And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.
14 And I will be found of you, saith the Lord
If we pray for His help, He will guide us towards the ending of happiness and hope He has helped to prepare for us. He helped the Jews endure their captivity, and He will help us now as we write our own life story. And while we may not always control everything that happens to us, we do have the responsibility to write the parts of the story we do control. We choose the dialogue and actions that develop our character. We choose our friends and the people we trust to influence us in their own ways. But most important of all, we choose whether or not we will include Christ in our lives.

When Christ taught the parable of the ten virgins, He didn’t just tell a cute story about a wedding. He gave us the most chilling admonition—in my opinion—in all of the scriptures. The virgins who do not prepare for the Bridegroom—the coming of Christ—He tells us He is prepared to look them in the eye on that Day of Judgment and say, “Verily I say unto you, I know you not.”

But by studying His life and His ministry, we will learn what we must do to seek Him out. One of my favorite stories about him is in John 8:1-11. Jesus was teaching in the temple, and the Pharisees arrived with a woman who was caught committing adultery.
4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?
6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.
I find it interesting that John would include details like the fact that the Savior continued to write in the sand, even though He knew what the Pharisees were trying to do. Similarly, we will be judged by men and women of the world as we write our stories in the sand. The story continues:
7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them,
He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
9 And they which heard it, being convicted by
their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto
the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but
the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man
condemned thee?
11 She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto
her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.
We must have confidence in ourselves and our potential. Have confidence in what the Savior saw in you when He atoned for your sins.
That’s why, in 1 John, we read, “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.”

We may wonder about our divine potential, and what makes our lives and stories so valuable?

When the Savior atoned for our sins in the Garden of Gethsemane, each drop of blood atoned for each and every sin we will ever commit. In each drop are the stories of us all—the sins we will commit as we learn to write our life stories, the mistakes we all inadvertently will make in order to endure through this life. On this occasion, this Easter morning, I invite all of you to remember the promise that was bound to us in His blood. In Isaiah 49, He promised:

Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.

As the author and finisher of faith, Christ has already written His story. Now, He desires more than anything else to help and teach us as we write ours too. Only then do we take upon ourselves the task of Jacob in the Book of Mormon when he said, “Nephi gave me a commandment… that I should write upon these plates a few of the things which I considered to be most precious.”

I pray that we will always include our Savior in all that we write, in all that we live, in all that we are. In this is eternal salvation, but I also testify that His presence blesses us with salvation every day in all the ways we feel His love.

In this I am confident, in His holy name—Jesus Christ. AMEN

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