Showing posts with label The Book of Mormon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Book of Mormon. Show all posts

Holy Week: Resurrection

Touch Me Not, Minerva K. Teichert

Mary Magdalene is among my favorite women in all of scripture. She is blessed with a personal interaction with the resurrected Christ that any disciple would love to have, as told in John 20:

 11 ¶ But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre,

12 And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.

13 And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.

14 And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.

15 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.

16 Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.

17 Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.

18 Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.

The Greek in verse 17 properly translated from Greek doesn't mean to refrain from touching me yet. It is better rendered as "Hold me not," to refrain from holding me, which you are already doing. Mary Magdalene threw her arms around the Savior, greeted him enthusiastically and without restraint. She had received an undeniable witness of the Resurrection not just with her eyes, but with her own hands. She was the first person after the death of Christ to have such a witness.

She was not the only one to receive such a witness ahead of the apostles. There were multiple women who then saw Jesus after their interactions with the angels at the garden tomb. From Matthew 28:

5 And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.

6 He is not here: for he is arisen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.

7 And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.

8 And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.

9 And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.

10 Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.

These women also received an undeniable witness by touching Christ. They could not know with a greater certainty that Jesus had risen from the dead.

When they did as they were instructed by the angels, to tell the Twelve what they had seen and experienced, the Twelve didn't believe them. They did not trust the women as reliable sources of truth.

From Mark:

 9 Now when Jesus was arisen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.

10 And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept.

11 And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not.

From Luke:

10 It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles.

11 And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not.

And because of that refusal to listen to the women in their lives, the women who were closest to Christ and who had received that witness before them, they had to wait until they got all the way to Galilee to see him. Which really is incomprehensible when you consider that he walked with them to on the road to Emmaus and none of them recognized him. He had to baby step them into being able to see him, then cajole them by eating something in front of them, and eventually break down what they were seeing for them in scriptural terms for them to finally receive the witness, the truth the women already had. (See Luke 24:12-48)

In almost two thousand years, this has not changed as much as it should have by now.

Believe women. Believe our words. Believe in the power of our faith. Believe in the gifts and talents God has given to us. Believe in our potential. Believe in our ministries. Believe our leadership. Believe in us the same way Christ believes in and trusts us.

What happens to church that dishonor and disgrace their women by withholding this love and trust from them?

They have the fullness of truth and power withheld from them, their access to Christ curtailed, the same way the Twelve did. And in the Book of Mormon, Ether 12 explains why:

12 For if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them; wherefore, he showed not himself until after their faith.

It's not just faith in God that matters. It's also the faith we have in ourselves and in each other. When that faith falters, no one can help us, not even the perfected and resurrected Christ. If we want to be in a condition where Jesus Christ CAN help us, it requires us to confront and dismantle our own unconscious biases, the disrespect and prejudice we hold for other people. There is no room for any of that in the kingdom of God, and that spiritual deprivation begins here and now, on Earth. It will last as long as it takes us to do the work to overcome that way of thinking.

Where is the power of Jesus Christ on this earth today? It's in many places. Wherever there is love, wherever there is compassion, wherever there is faith in the future, wherever there are sincere souls who see wrongs and are trying to make them right, there is Christ. And it stands to reason, and shouldn't go without saying, that the power of Jesus Christ is in the hands and hearts of women.

What does learning the lessons of the past, the lessons in the ministry of Jesus Christ this Easter?

Among many of the valuable lessons that others will teach today, let this one be included: Believe, and believe in, the women who serve him.

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.

2 Nephi 5

So y'all now know where I stand on Nephi being an unreliable narrator. In one of my previous posts, I talked about this in reference to his treatment of his family and his leadership. I tackled the racism superficially, so let's go ahead and choke slam it the rest of the way.

20 Wherefore, the word of the Lord was fulfilled which he spake unto me, saying that: Inasmuch as they will not hearken unto thy words they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord. And behold, they were cut off from his presence. 21 And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.
2 Nephi 5:20-21

Has this passage been used historically to enable racism in the Church, including the justification for the racial priesthood restriction? Yes. Absolutely. Curse of Cain. Curse of Ham. Less valiant in the preexistence. Slavery being perpetuated into eternity. The whole shebang. This isn't the origin, as early pro-slavery church leaders pursued biblical justifications for slavery like everyone else. What this verse did was present the opportunity for Saints so inclined to create their own Mormon flavored versions of those justifications.

How does Come Follow Me approach these attitudes and the racism that perpetuated them?

What was the curse that came upon the Lamanites? In Nephi’s day the curse of the Lamanites was that they were “cut off from [the Lord’s] presence … because of their iniquity” (2 Nephi 5:20–21). This meant that the Spirit of the Lord was withdrawn from their lives. When Lamanites later embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ, “the curse of God did no more follow them” (Alma 23:18).
The Book of Mormon also states that a mark of dark skin came upon the Lamanites after the Nephites separated from them. The nature and appearance of this mark are not fully understood. The mark initially distinguished the Lamanites from the Nephites. Later, as the Nephites and Lamanites each went through periods of wickedness and righteousness, the mark became irrelevant.
Prophets affirm in our day that dark skin is not a sign of divine disfavor or cursing. President Russell M. Nelson declared: “I assure you that your standing before God is not determined by the color of your skin. Favor or disfavor with God is dependent upon your devotion to God and His commandments and not the color of your skin” (“Let God Prevail,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2020, 94).
As Nephi taught, the Lord “denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; … all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33).

I've heard theories that the skins, rather than talking about the complexions of people, refers to the clothing skins they wore, or some kind of mark they would put on their faces such as tattoos or body art. I've also heard people lean into the notion that this was meant to be metaphorical, centering the images in the text of flint or scales in their eyes. What the church is attempting to teach now in Come Follow Me is that we don't know what is meant here, but it's NOT complexion. I don't find any of these compelling and I want to talk about why.

So we don't know what it means? But we know it's not racist? So which is it? You can't have it both ways like that. So let's be honest!

We know it's not intended to be racist because the Church tried that for over a century, and it became obvious it was ungodly, abusive, false. We are willing to admit now that such attitudes contradict Scripture and the nature of God because our community existed in the ridiculous position of maintaining racist policies in the face of those scriptural contradictions that condemned us. THAT'S how we know the Lamanite "curse" is not supposed to signify complexion skin color.

We paid dearly for that lesson in how many people were denied the fullness of God and his blessings, so let's not diminish that history so we don't have to repeat it. Especially since the Church exists in cultures and societies around the world who are currently attempting to conceal this kind of history so they can go on repeating it.

Besides being disingenuous with what our experience as a community has been, my issue here is that these attitudes deserve more complex and sophisticated dismantling than this. Especially because with these justifications of alternate curses being proposed, the crucial lesson here is going unlearned.

It is counter to the nature of God and the order of heaven to punish the innocent. Curses that expand beyond the necessary bounds of punishing the perpetrator(s) are inherently unjust, regardless of the nature of the curse. We don't believe that children are punished for the sins of their parents. Period. That's what the scriptures teach. We have an entire Article of Faith dedicated to that principle. God does not curse anyone for sins they didn't commit. People do that. God does not.

The racial priesthood restriction became our Original Sin, with more steps. It was nothing short of hypocrisy, perpetuated by prophets and apostles who had every reason to know better, but didn't. It was where the leadership of our church, in the attempt to appear smart and clever, copied the homework from the rest of Christianity when they became obsessed with scientific racism and eugenics, and it took us WAY too long to admit the mistake. And in many ways, our community STILL can't openly talk about it or admit to it. Which is how we end up with weak sauce explanations like the one given in Come Follow Me for 2 Nephi 5.

I'm not afraid to say that prophets and apostles are capable of teaching false doctrine. They are imperfect human beings who are susceptible to making these kinds of mistakes and leading people astray. This is a reality we must be prepared to face as believers in community with one another.

If we can't see and condemn these failures in someone like Nephi, how can we hope to see and recognize them in someone like Brigham Young, J. Reuben Clark, or Bruce R. McConkie?

Note that Come Follow Me quotes 2 Nephi 26. These are some of my favorite verses in all of scripture. Let's realize together that Nephi had to grow into this revolutionary vision of a God who embraces all people without prejudice. By the time Nephi reaches the maturity to say that "all are alike unto God," the perpetuation of his prejudice and the attending destruction in the conflicts of his people were already set into motion. He spent his remaining years finally teaching the truth of respect and inclusion his younger self didn't know how to believe in.

At the exact moment he finally envisions the love of God, the curse he describes in 2 Nephi 5 had already taken root into the cultures of two groups who would go on hating each other until the bitter end. The prejudice Nephi taught became the defining obstacle for the Nephites and Lamanites, shaping the beliefs who came afterwards, who continue to appeal to and describe this curse throughout the rest of the narrative. Nephi created this curse, at least in part, and every generation after him found ways to perpetuate and reinforce it.

The Book of Mormon was written for our day. And it's hard to describe this curse and NOT think of racism because it is very much like a curse in our modern day. This prejudicial hatred is a destructive force in our society. It's perpetuated by people in power who seek their own personal gains by feeding into those conflicts. And like any curse, it doesn't have to come from God to have the worst kind of power imaginable. All it takes for such a curse to survive is for the people who are impacted by it to never challenge their relationship to it in any meaningful way. Like cancer, it spreads and worsens by going unacknowledged and untreated.

I Don't Like Come Follow Me


I never have. And I haven't been able to articulate why until I tried to buckle down and start with the Book of Mormon this year.

The first paragraph of the first section for 1 Nephi 1-5 ends with this sentence:

"Overall, there is power in this imperfect family’s examples of faith."

I was rocked by that a little bit the first time I read it.

I thought to myself, "Wow. Are we really going to confront the hero worship and unhealthy worldviews our community has internalized about this book because of the way the negative behaviors of the characters are never challenged or confronted for what they are? That many of the details are included because they're cautionary tales about what NOT to do, but you'd never know that based on how the material is presented and talked about by our people at large because the conversation is driven by the needless compulsion to focus on the same tired perspectives of faith promotion that the subjects sometimes don't deserve?"

Then I read the section, which is full of the same "I will go and do" about Nephi that they always do, without once confronting the conflicts, doubts, and struggles of anyone but Nephi in any serious way, some of which are exacerbated (if not cause) by Nephi being insufferable and self-righteous to everyone around him.

Nephi is an unreliable narrator, y'all. You're not supposed to believe everything he says, thinks, and does. Especially when he's younger. His view of the people around him and their motivations lack depth because he was totally unconcerned with their feelings and struggles. He was bad at helping and honoring people in their darkest moments, having nothing better to offer them for support than glib and shallow assertions that they would be struggling less if they were more like him. An attitude he learned from his father's blatant and unapologetic favoritism.

Nephi is not an example of what to do when there is conflict in your family. And it takes him until "O wretched man that I am" to realize he's not the most important man in every room. His disrespect for other people in his leadership is the reason they want nothing to do with him, and it takes him a lifetime of chasing people away from God to realize he's not as good of a person as he thinks he is. He has failed people from his need to be seen as being better than he is, better than everyone else is at loving God and knowing what that means. And this becomes a cultural artifact, a baked-in foregone conclusion in the minds of his people that ends up shaping their self-perceptions until it destroys them. His personal failures, viewed for their long-term ramifications and consequences, is part of what this book is supposed to be about.

But sure. Let's do "I will go and do" again, without pondering in any serious way if Nephi's interpretation of his interaction with the Holy Ghost might be lacking in credibility because the alternative is to say something closer to "We really botched this job and killing Laban was not a forgone conclusion or a necessary evil that I can acquit myself of because God said it was okay."

Maybe we don't have to believe that. Maybe we can examine how our culture in the modern church has perpetuated this same logical fallacy with vigilante violence, justified by appeals to this exact story.

Point being, never read the story of Nephi without keeping it firmly fixed in your mind that he's going to regret and repent of most of this later. That cross reference to 2 Nephi 4 is probably the most important thing you can have in your margins every time he says or does something totally uncalled for.

"He Lives to Hear My Soul's Complaint"


 

The idea that complaining is a moral failure is ridiculous. The fact that only women get this kind of criticism for it, even when they don’t deserve it, is sexist.

Why do I say that?

Because the two characters in the Bible who complain the most are David in the Psalms and Job, and never once have I ever heard anyone criticize them for complaining, even when they self-identify as complaining to God. But no one hesitates to say that about Job’s wife and Sariah.

Let’s be honest with ourselves about what the difference is.

Link this together with the importuning widow, the woman who begged crumbs from the master’s table, and Hannah who said “Count not thine handmaid for a daughter of Belial: for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief have I spoken hitherto.”

God doesn’t care that we complain when we take our complaints to him. That’s where they belong. And the idea that trusting God and not complaining are mutually exclusive is a total misread of so many scriptural accounts.

To police the emotions of women when they complain, to label it as lacking faith, is abusive behavior that denies the faith out takes to formulate that dissatisfaction into words.

To say to God “I want—I deserve—better than this” is an act of faith.

Let women in Scripture teach you this lesson.

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.

God's Love IS Unconditional

Image courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

In my younger years, I attempted to excuse myself from fully buying into the notion that God truly intended me to love all people. Surely he didn't mean for me to love people I have good reason not to trust, those who show animosity towards me and would do me harm if they got the chance. And certainly there was no obligation for me to love the people who had already intentionally and maliciously hurt me. 

A God who truly cared about me wouldn't put me in that position... right?

This was part of a prolonged, circuitous effort to justify myself in refusing to forgive several of the most abusive people in my past. I could "forgive" them in a way that was effectively meaningless, as long as I didn't have to love them. It was a rationale that came from a deeply hurt and fearful place.

As I continued to heal and reached a place where I was ready to handle the answers to these questions, the truth slowly coalesced in my own mind through the influence of the Holy Ghost.

Jesus said love everyone...

To love my neighbor is a commandment that Jesus Christ teaches consistently throughout the New Testament, through just about every imaginable lens.

And in one of my favorite sermons in all of scripture, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that I am to love my enemies.

So between loving my neighbor and my enemies... who is left?

There is no one else left. Jesus Christ, and our Heavenly Parents who sent him, never intended to leave us any room to make exceptions. The love they intend to teach us is universal, meaning without limits or exceptions.

It's through this same logical progression that I want to discuss why I believe, with every inch of my soul, that divine love is truly unconditional. I will also discuss why I'm deeply mistrustful of anyone who presents any vision of divine love that isn't unconditional.

One of the scriptures that has been in my life the longest as a disciple is Romans 8:38-39. It's probably the one I've reached for more than any other in my seventeen years of church membership, including now:

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,

Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I don't have to be a Biblical literalist to understand that these verses are describing a love that is infinite and eternal in nature. It does not end. It never changes. The love of God transcends all human weakness to encompass the entire human race. And to someone who is determined to make this a description of universal love again, they just stop there.

Read it again.

When it says that nothing and no one, including "any other creature," can separate us from the love of God, that includes ourselves. The literal meaning of these words is that nothing we will ever do will remove the love of God from us. By the time God's love is universal in all the ways that the scriptures describe, it's impossible for that love not to also be unconditional.

And treat them kindly too.

Why is this important? Because it's impossible to fully appreciate the motivation of Jesus Christ during his atonement in Gethsemane without it.

For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.

For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:6-8

That's what Jesus Christ did in the Garden of Gethsemane. That was the reason he bled from every pore. It wasn't to set some impossibly high standard of righteousness he knew no one else would ever be able live up to. It wasn't to position himself as a superior to the rest of the human race. It was to make sure that no mistake any person would ever make would prevent them from re-entering the presence of our Heavenly Parents. His sacrifice does not exist as the ultimate condemnation of sin. It's the unconditional love he showed to all of humanity, including to those who would never choose to believe in him. It was the ultimate act of unconditional love.

The prophet Abinadi in the Book of Mormon taught that when Jesus Christ was making that sacrifice, he saw his seed. I've heard some go so far as to suggest that he saw each and every person individually for whom he was making that sacrifice. I'm inclined to agree with that interpretation. (See Mosiah 15:10)

Abinadi then goes on to define exactly who the seed of Jesus Christ is. And as it turns out, it's not those who obey the laws of God with exactness. It's not the whole who need no physician. It's those who look forward to a remission of their sins, who are fully aware they are imperfect human beings who require grace to be made whole. As always, it's the harlots and publicans, the strangers and outsiders who go into heaven before those who find themselves thinking, "the world would be a better place if everyone in it were more like me and approached God exactly like I do." (See Matthew 9:12-13, 12:42, and 21:28-31. See also Jacob 3:5 and Helaman 7:24)

As I recall, that was the sin that got Lucifer cast out of the presence of God. He attempted to put himself between us and our Heavenly Parents with a plan that never would've allowed us to experience that divine love ever again. He, not Jesus Christ, is the one who wanted to make divine love conditional upon his own standard, which he intended to implement by force. He sought to make himself, not God, the object of our worship, the receiver of our love. (See Moses 4:1-4)

Why am I mistrusting of anyone who rejects divine love as being unconditional? Because my soul has been rejecting that plan since the very beginning. I don't trust anyone who views it as their right to stand between our Heavenly Parents and their children, interrupting the loving exchange between us and them. My Savior died so that no one would ever be in a position to do that. I reject the idea that any other intermediary belongs there, deciding how much divine love anyone else is entitled to experience.

When your heart is filled with love, others will love you.

Why would someone put themselves in that position? The same reason I did all those years ago, in my own very human way: to justify myself in withholding my love from someone I didn't want to acknowledge was deserving of it. I wanted to abandon the second great commandment to love my neighbor, when I already knew there was no way for me to do that without utterly breaking the first. That is, to love God.

If you don't believe me, you don't have to take my word for it. 1 John 4:20-21 says the same exact thing:

If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?

And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

This is as true for God as it is for us. Our Heavenly Parents have set no standard for us that they are not equally bound to follow. They have taught us to have universal, unconditional love for each other because it's how they live. It's the only way we can truly become like them.

And while we (and they) are fully aware that we will stumble along the way, I believe they would rather watch us stumble along the path of loving unconditionally than being perfect at withholding our love from those who just don't deserve it. Especially if we're going to point to them as a justification.

Marginalizing the Poor, the Widow, the Fatherless, and the Stranger


If you have ever uttered the phrase "welfare queen" or "welfare state" in a derogatory manner about actual human beings, you have reason to repent.

Whoso mocketh the poor reproacheth his Maker: and he that is glad at calamities shall not be unpunished.

Prov. 17:5

Reopen yourself to compassion about whether people have basic safety in their lives.

Set yourself free.

16 And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.

17 Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—

18 But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.

Mosiah 4:16-18

In fact, let's Mormonize it for a little bit.

And oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart.

Zech. 7:10

If you can see the filth and offensiveness in the language of four letter words, but not in dehumanizing the poor, widow, fatherless, and marginalized in this language, your moralizing on "clean" language doesn't amount to much.

Talking Openly About Heavenly Mother

I don't like the trend I've been noticing from general authorities in which they try to discourage people from talking about Mother in Heaven. Especially since we're seeing a metamorphosis in the reasoning from "she's too sacred to even mention" to "we just don't know enough to speculate."

In Their Image, Caitlin Connolly
Imagine if Joseph F. Smith had used the collective ignorance of the Church as the reason not to seek the vision of the dead that became Section 138 in the Doctrine and Covenants. Present ignorance is never an excuse not to seek knowledge. Especially about God.

I mean, I can pull at least half a dozen scriptures off the top of my head as to why saying "No thank you" to the knowledge God has to bestow is a bad idea.

He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.

For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.

 Matt. 13:11-12

But I think these two will suffice for now.

And I do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and that I speak forth my words according to mine own pleasure. And because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever.

Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written.

2 Ne. 29:9-10

The biggest impediment to this approach is how much of a mixed message it has already become, whether general leadership knows that or not. They don't seem to understand that there are women in this church alive today who have been promised knowledge of and interactions with Heavenly Mother in their patriarchal blessings. There is no way for them to be doing all this and not to have to eat crow for it later.

The Virtues of Asking for Help

Today, the youth speaker was asked to talk about what faith in Christ means to her. She talked about what she learned from the example of Captain Moroni. She really admires the way he took care of others. She's the third youth speaker I've heard in this ward talk about self-reliance. Maybe that's their theme for this month?

She said made me think about an attribute of self-reliance I've never thought about before.

Self-reliance isn't about being so capable and prepared for life that you never need anyone else's help. It's recognizing when you need help and being secure enough to ask for it. That's what Captain Moroni does in that story. (See Alma 43)

He doesn't arm his people by himself. He doesn't construct fortifications, build cities, gather intelligence through reconnaissance, or even seek divine guidance by himself. There's no Lone Rugged Frontiersman™ Americans love so much. An honest reading of this story doesn't lend itself to that.

People who never ask for help, even when they need it, are not self-reliant. They usually end up spreading their frustration with their inability to do everything themselves onto those around them in the form of emotional contagion.

Every person I've ever met who refuses to ask for help expects others to do their emotional regulating for them. Usually in the form of concealing any form of disagreement or difference for the sake of that person's ego.
 
Real self-reliance requires having the awareness, humility, and confidence to ask for help. To accept that your independence exists with the help of a collective who gives their labor to you for free, even if you don't ask. 
 
None of us are an island, even when we try.

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