Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Judgment of God

It's a very popular section: section 6 of the Doctrine and Covenants, in which the Lord talks (through Joseph Smith) to Oliver Cowdery. It's most "famous," if you will, for verse 23, but the whole of the section is a wealth of information regarding how our Father in Heaven deals with us, and speaks to us the things that we need to hear.

In among the verses is this one:

"16 Yea, I tell thee, that thou mayest know that there is none else save God that knowest thy thoughts and the intents of thy heart."

Of course, in this instance, God was speaking directly to Oliver about his testimony, and was in effect giving Oliver proofs that He knew Oliver inside and out, preparatory to his explaining (after establishing that he knew Oliver's thoughts) that certain of those thoughts were indeed a testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. So verse 16 has a specific purpose, and a specific meaning within the context of this section.

Still, I can't help but look at other meanings; other applications of scripture. And it occurred to me that, if only God can know the thoughts and intents of Oliver's heart, then the same probably holds true to me, and to you, and to every other person on the planet.

Actions are visible, and something that we can judge for effect - e.g., you punch me in the nose, I am aware and positive of the blood streaming from my nose. But motivations and intents - i.e., the reason you punched me in the nose - are forever closed to us in our role as mere humans.

The only exception to this, of course, is if the Lord directly reveals to us what someone's motivations or intents are, through the spirit of revelation and prophecy. This is generally confined to the bishops, who are called to be the "judge in Israel" (see, e.g., D&C 58:17; 64:40). And rightfully so, it would seem, especially since even when functioning under the spirit of the Lord, we also continue on with our human limitations and inabilities. So rendering judgment of any kind is a dangerous proposition, especially since we have been told that we will be judged as we judge others (see, e.g., JST Matt. 7:1).

Does this - our inherent ignorance, coupled with the threat of reciprocal action by the Lord - not then counsel strongly in favor of our being lenient with others, with refraining from judging their motives and thoughts, and if we do find ourselves judging, taking every effort to be as lenient and forgiving as possible?

I don't know about everyone else, but it seems to me, reading these scriptures, that refraining from judging others is not only proper - for this is the province of God alone as the only one who can make perfect judgment - but essential to our salvation. A "Get out of Jail Free" card of sorts. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to face the Lord at the judgment bar, confident that he is going to "go easy" on us, because we have "gone easy" on others?

Now, I also note that, again, though only the Lord can know our thoughts, nowhere does he say we must seek out or even accept physical or mental abuse. But it is more than possible in most cases to remove ourselves from the sphere of influence of someone who is harming us, and simply say that judgment is God's. In other words, someone punches me in the nose, I have a right and duty to protect myself... but I have never heard of a situation where someone protected themselves simply by judging the internal thoughts and desires of another.

Of course, this is the reason we have jails and courts, and as a lawyer I can say that the system is designed to rely as little as possible on what someone may or may not have been feeling or thinking, and instead on what they actually did or did not do. And this is right, for we simply do not have the capability to fully understand the infinite vagaries and idiosyncracies of human thought and motivation.

Only the Lord can do that.
And what a relief. Because now I don't have to worry about why I am being bothered or annoyed. Once I can expunge from myself the need to judge my fellow brothers and sisters, I am free to simply live my life, instead of being burdened with living theirs'. Only one person in all of recorded history successfully managed to do that, and it caused him to sweat great drops of blood.

Judgment is the Lord's. This is a blessing, not a reservation. And thanks be to God for it.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Art of Advocacy

"Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him..." (D&C 45:3).

I love this verse. I love it because of many reasons, first and foremost being the fact that it places the Savior squarely in my corner come judgment. And we all know (or should know) that: one of Christ's main responsibilities will be to serve as our advocate to the Father.

But even though many of us know that, I think many of us misconstrue the meaning of one of the words in this verse, and completely miss another.

The word that is misconstrued is "advocate." I think that when most of us say or hear the word advocate, what springs to mind is a lawyer - someone who is in our employ, and who is paid to fight for us.

But an interesting thing about lawyers is that they are legally required to do the best they can by their clients... even if they don't believe their clients are in the right.* They may resign because they have a moral problem with representing the client, and they may not knowingly put forth false evidence under the law, but even if the client says, "I am absolutely guilty and should be given the maximum penalty for my crime," the lawyer's job is to fight for that guilty party, and (if possible) to get him/her off with no penalty whatsoever.

This, however, is not the Savior's role in advocating for us before the Father.

Which brings us to the next part: the word most people miss... or at least mis-read.

And that word is "cause." I think most people think that the Savior is going to plead our case. After all, that's what lawyers (again, what most of us think of when we think of advocates) do: they plead their client's case before the judge; again, casting the client in the best possible light to get the lightest possible sentence, guilty or no.

But, again, that is not what the Savior will do. He will not argue our case, for our case, if argued, would lead inevitably to our downfall and damnation. Our case, which would have to be argued truthfully before the great bar of the Lord, would include our sins and our shortcomings, our errors and our failures of heart. This would then automatically disqualify us from receiving Celestial glory, for "no unclean thing can dwell with God..."

Thankfully, however, the Savior will not argue our case... he will argue our cause. He will argue our cause.

The word cause has many definitions. One of them that I think particularly apt in this context is the following: "the welfare of a person or group, seen as a subject of concern." I like this. I like this because it converts the impossible idea of the Savior pleading successfully that we to be in the Celestial kingdom to the more workable principle and idea of him pleading for our welfare before the Father.

Of course, how is he going to do that? The answer lies (as it so often does) in reading the entirety of the thought, not just an excerpt:

"3 Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him -
"4 Saying: Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified;
"5 Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life."

The Savior will plead our cause - He will plead for our welfare, for our best interest, for the best possible avenue to happiness that will lie open to us.

And He will also plead a case. But instead of arguing like a lawyer in a court of law, who says, "Judge, this man is innocent," thus pleading the case of his client, the Savior will look to that great Judge of all and will say, "Father, this man [you and me] is guilty, but I am innocent, and have suffered that my friend might come unto me, and through me unto you."

In other words, the case that the Savior will argue will be His own: "I suffered, Father, and will You make My suffering vain?"

Of course, the Father would not, for such would not be just. And so we see justice and mercy merging and becoming, not two separate attributes, but one joint means of salvation and exaltation.

* This is a simplification, but it is essentially correct. And how do I know this? Because I am a lawyer. But don't hate me too much for that.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Thinking About the Links...

I was thinking about the book of Abraham and the facsimiles in it. Fascinating things, those. We know that not the hundredth part made it into the Book of Mormon - Heavenly Father's and the prophets' polite way of telling us to pay attention, because every word is important. I wonder if the same is also true of the Book of Abraham. I suspect it is so, considering how wild Joseph Smith went over its discovery.

The importance of the book of Abraham is clear from the beginning, actually. If nothing else, it gives us incredible detail about Abraham's lineage, culture, and learning.

And then out of nowhere, there are these images. Facsimile Nos. 1 and 2. Pictured here is Facsimile No. 2, and if you're reading this you might want to pull it out so you can see what I'm talking about as I go.

There are several items in this image for which explanations have been provided. Figure 1, (dead center of the circle) for example, is "Kolob, signifying the first creation..." Figure 2 (located near the top) "Stands next to Kolob... [and] is the next grand governing creation near to the celestial or the place where God resides..."

This Figure 2 always catches my eye, because it is the only place in the facsimile where there is an overlap between two areas. In all other instances, the symbols are blocked off from one another in boxes or rectangles which are clearly delineated by double lines. The only exception to the "double line rule" is the outer ring, which is separated from the inner panels by a circle comprised of only one line.

These two things - the overlap of Figure 2 from the inner portion of the image to the outer ring - and the outer ring itself being separated from the rest of the images by only a thin line make me wonder what meaning there could be. We know that this image tells a story - all doctrine is told in stories, if by no other than the grand story of Jesus' life and the atonement, from which all Gospel tenets spring - so what story or teachings do these strange juxtapositions teach us?

I have some opinions. Again, bear in mind that I am not a spokesman for the Church. Just someone who likes to think, and share those thoughts. So take this with a grain of salt, and if there is anything "of good report, or praiseworthy" about the following, use it. If not, chuck it.

Okay, here we go.

Outer circle, at almost exactly the 9:00 position, there is an image of what appears to be a person, legs bent, arms over their head. Next to that is a thing that looks like three straight lines: two short and the long one in the middle, the long one looking like an arrow. This is a symbol that has been translated to mean "the holy place."

So we have a person in the outer ring, which is separated from the inner portions by a thin line, supplicating at the holy place.

Of course, as Latter-day Saints, our most holy place is the temple, and so for me it is no huge jump to wonder if this is a symbology representing worship at the temple. This would make it even more interesting that there is a single place where the "wall" between sections of the Abrahamic facsimile is punctured: a place where, if one comes in proper supplication to the holy place, perhaps the line between this kingdom and the next may be pierced, and thereby perhaps may the holiest of things be glimpsed.

There is precedent, of course, for this happening. The prophet Joseph Smith's vision of Christ standing before him which occurred in the Kirtland Temple, after he and Oliver Cowdery shut themselves away and prayed to the Lord (the full account of this is in Doctrine and Covenants Section 110).

In effect, the holier realms came through the single line that separates us from them when we are in the temple - the holy place - and provided edification and glimpses of glory that can be had in no other way and at no other place.

Again, I am not an official spokesman for the Church, or a prophet (other than inasmuch as I have a testimony of Jesus Christ - see, e.g., Numbers 11:25-29 and Revelation 19:10). So what do I know?

Not much, I suppose, but I do suspect that one of the primary reasons we are instructed to visit the temple is because that will be the entry point from which things will flow when the Earth is at last reclaimed by Christ and He takes its place as its rightful king. If we are known at the Temple, we will be known in the kingdom of Heaven, for we will have pierced the wall between Heaven and earth in the place that it is thinnest. We shall have seen the things of God, and been seen by them in turn.

Why do we go to the temple (assuming we do). To save the souls of the dead? Certainly. To participate as saviors in Zion. Of course.

But I propose that it is also a question of familiarity. In the parables of the New Testament, those seeking entry into the feast or the wedding party - the kingdom of heaven - we can see examples of the master refusing entrance to someone because he "knows them not" (see Matthew 25:1-12).

So have I gone to the temple often enough and recently enough that, should Christ come to the earth today, I would know and be known by him?

Have you?

Sobering thoughts.

Thank you, father Abraham.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Our Partnerships with the Godhead

There are a total of two ordinances in which all members of the Godhead are invoked.

The first is baptism. This makes sense: we are casting off the old person we once were and creating a new one, one that is not only representative of our own best hopes and dreams, but actually representative of the fact that we now stand as agents of the Godhead.

Because I am a lawyer, I view a lot of the Gospel through a legal lens. And while reflecting on this fact of the Godhead being invoked at baptism, it occurred to me that this is much like a partnership being created. In a partnership, each of the partners has the ability to act for and on behalf of the others, inasmuch as they are furthering the general interests of the partnership. And this follows with the Gospel, too: we are promised that we will receive power so that "whatsoever we bind on earth shall be bound in heaven" (see D&C 128:8; Matthew 16:19), meaning that, as new partners with the Lord, we will receive power to act in His name, on His behalf.
Not only that, but we are promised that if we continue to receive Him, all that the Father has shall be given unto us (D&C 84:38). Full partners, if you will.

Now, this brings us to an interesting fact about partnerships: when one of the partners dies (at least in the jurisdiction where I practice law), the partnership dissolves automatically. The properties are divvied up, the moneys are parsed out, but there is NO more partnership. It ceases to exist.

Why is this interesting for purposes of this little thought? It brings us to the next ordinance in which the entire Godhead is invoked: the sealing ordinance. In this, once more, the Godhead is invoked in full, each of them individually named as being the creators of the new unit. And where the previous unit consisted of four (the three members of the Godhead plus the baptized member of the church), this new unit consists of five: the three members of the Godhead, plus the husband, plus the wife. This, the "crowning ordinance" of the Gospel creates a new partnership. And THE OLD PARTNERSHIP DISSOLVES. There is no more simply "The Godhead and I," it is now "The Godhead and I and my spouse," each co-equal in the sense that we are all equally important to achieve the grace and salvation of the mortal "junior partners."

After all, can I graduate to the Celestial Kingdom without my Father permitting me entry? Can I go without the saving Grace offered by Jesus Christ? Can I attain salvation without the whispering words and cleansing fire of the Holy Ghost? NO.

Can I go without my spouse, if I do not treat her in full measure as an equal in our partnership, as someone whom God loves as much as He loves me, and as someone upon whom I utterly depend for my salvation?

Divorce in the world trends ever upward. Sadly, it seems, the church divorce rates are doing the same, moving up and up. Perhaps not as quickly as they are doing in the rest of the world, but moving up nonetheless...

That this is tragic is clear, because with the divorce comes the dissolution not just of the marriage, but of the partnership that had been created between spouses and the Godhead... and there is no new post-divorce ordinance offered to help us regain our previous status with the Godhead.

Now, heed me here, I am NOT saying that all divorces are wrong, or that all divorcees are evil, or even that ANY divorcee will suffer a withdrawing of the Lord's spirit. Indeed, the very purpose of the Sacrament that we take each week is to renew our covenants, including the ones we made at baptism, thus re-instituting our original partnership, this time back to a four-person partnership.

All this was inspired by a random comment made in Sunday School last week. And, to be perfectly honest, I don't know how much good it will do anyone (though hopefully it will do no ill).

But I AM glad I wrote it out, because it makes me ask these questions to you, the readers:

1) Do you who are not married treat yourselves as representatives of a full partnership between you and the Godhead? Are you aware that you are, not only sons and daughters of God, but princes and princesses - and therefore necessarily kings and queens to be? If you will always remember this status you have, you will never sin... for who would give up the univers of all God's possessions for the trifles that any sin can offer?

2) Do you who ARE married treat yourselves as representatives of a full partnership between you and the Godhead? And do you treat your spouse as a partner in equal measure, with equal rights and privileges before the Lord? Do you remember that you are a prince or a princess, and your spouse is equally endowed with a heritage of most high Royalty?

Let us go our way, and not merely sin no more, but anxiously seek to do good. Let us bind the Lord in Heaven, for we are His agents, his partners, his sons and daughters today and co-heirs with Christ in the hereafter.