Monday, February 28, 2011

Judging Yesterday's History

When something happens today, tomorrow I can get multiple newspapers and watch multiple news programs that discuss what happened yesterday. Chances are I will read multiple and even radically different explanations for what happened - yesterday.

Yesterday is history, and yesterday is messy and disputed. Compared to yesterday, the 1800's are a completely different universe. Anyone who says our Church history is clear and easy to understand simply doesn't understand history.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

How I Describe Faith, Especially in the Redemption of Jesus

A friend with whom I have been communicating online recently asked me to explain how I see faith - and especially faith in Jesus Christ.  The following is my answer to her - and it is my wrap-up for this month's New Year's Resolution:

I like Paul's definition of faith in Hebrews:

"Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

I also like that he talks in that chapter about it being the motivating force behind action - that he describes its EFFECT on people and what they DO as a result. He gives a list of people who had faith and to whom that faith was imputed for righteousness - and he does so by listing what they did as a result of their faith. In other words, "faith" can be described as a noun ("substance" and "evidence"), but, in full context, to be "effective" or "efficacious", it also must be described as being "exercised" or "planted and nurtured" or in combination with some other action verb.

In the LDS Church, the most commonly quoted verse on faith probably is in James 2, where it says:

"Faith without works is dead, being alone." 

I like that, but it's just a concise way to say what Paul said in Hebrews.

(Interestingly, Luther and some other early Protestant reformers didn't like The Epistle of James and thought it should not have been included in the Bible - specifically because it was so obviously opposed to their view of faith and works. The irony is that they didn't object to Paul and Hebrews, even though the message is exactly the same. Paul just wasn't as blunt as James.)

In "the Gospel", faith is in Jesus - as in, "We believe the first principle of the Gospel is faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ;" Frankly, I think faith gets devalued by too many Mormons - almost taken for granted in a real way in their quest for knowledge. After all, the Doctrine & Covenants says that some people are given the gift to know that Jesus is the Christ, while some people are given the gift to believe those who know.

I also don't like some of the common examples of faith that are used to teach children about it. Believing a light will go on when you flip the light switch is NOT faith, and it shouldn't be taught as such - even to very small children who can't understand the full concept yet. It's experiential knowledge of things actually seen - and that simply isn't faith.

So, to me, our "faith" is that for which we hope in Christ and the evidence we see for that hope - a belief, yes, but such a strong belief that it actually compels us to act on our hope. It is Christ-centered, and the examples we use ought to be Christ-centered, as well - like those Paul used in Hebrews. 

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Vineyard Still Is Being Pruned

I personally believe the priesthood ban was unavoidable for the time and circumstances and, therefore, not "wrong" in that sense. I also know, however, that Joseph Smith ordained black men to the Melchizedek Priesthood - and I also am confident that Brigham Young (and most of the citizenry of the nation, Mormon or not) was racist, particularly (perhaps solely in Pres. Young's case) when it came to inter-racial marriage. I believe the ban was "wrong" in the sense that I don't think it was in harmony with what God would have preferred for his people in an ideal world (which I think is crystal clear in the Book of Mormon, ironically), and I know the justifications were horribly "wrong" according to the staunchest proponent of them (Bruce R. McConkie).

I believe it lasted as long as it did because the Church had to be ready to institute God's ideal before He would overturn it through revelation (that He was "slow to hear their cries" because of the hardness of their hearts and the incorrect traditions of their fathers - Alma 11:24). I might be wrong about most of that, but I am confident in saying that racism played a central role in how the ban evolved. I'm fine with that, since I simply think it was unavoidable - a trade-off, if you will, that was part of locating the Restoration in America at that time. 

In a nutshell, I believe the Restoration of the Gospel did NOT remove totally the "incorrect traditions of their fathers" from affecting the early Church leaders and members. They brought prejudices and biases into their membership (just as we still do), and they didn't have the luxury of over a hundred years of growth and clarification. The theology and doctrine were still new and overwhelming and evolving as they started to separate out the clinging false from the new true. I believe the Priesthood ban was perhaps the best (worst?) example of this pruning process - a literal fulfillment of the last pruning described in Jacob 5. 

I don't believe that pruning process is complete yet, and I don't know what other issues will be part of that process, but I do think I still see through my glass darkly enough that I'm not going to stake my testimony on anything remaining exactly as I understand it now. We've seen enough change over the last 180 years that I'm not convinced I know anything well enough to speak authoritatively about most things of eternity.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

From Whom Will We Accept Criticism?

I think of pride as the inability to accept criticism as a chance for introspection. I think the truly humble hear criticism (no matter the content and context) and think, “Is that correct?” I think the truly proud hear criticism (no matter the content and context) and think, “Shove it, jerk!” I think most of us vacillate somewhere in the middle of the two extremes, often depending on how much we like and respect the person who is offering the criticism.

I think the truest test of humility is how we react to criticism from those we don’t like or respect - and I certainly need to work on that.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Funniest Post in the History of the World

Adventures in Arizona - The Wiz (Mormon Mommy Wars)

Bookmark this page. There are over 300 comments, and it is worth reading every one of them - even if it takes you multiple days to do it.

Abso-stinking-lutley hilarious!!

Monday, February 21, 2011

I Decide My Own Faith

I have said elsewhere that I have made a conscious decision to pursue that which brings me joy. That is the LDS Church and the Restored Gospel.

I also realize that I can construct a reasonable intellectual argument for or against anything. I mean that fully. If I decide to construct an argument that casts the Church negatively, I can do so; if I want to cast the Church positively, no matter the issue, I can do so. Therefore, I have made a conscious decision to look actively and passionately for a way to reconcile difficulties and remain faithful.

In college, as part of my research on Manifest Destiny, I read just about every anti-Mormon writing of the 19th Century. I took some classes at the Harvard Divinity School - not exactly a bastion of extreme conservatism or champion of Mormonism. After graduation, I lived in the Deep South for a few years. I am probably as well-versed in anti-Mormon rhetoric as most, so my statement in the last paragraph is not stated carelessly. I also, however, understand that I can learn MUCH about the Gospel of Jesus Christ even from classic anti-Mormon preachers and denominations. Some of the most profound spiritual insights I have received have come by hearing something I already believed phrased differently by someone who believes I am headed straight to Hell and would dance in the streets if Mormonism was eliminated completely - simply hearing it from a different perspective I had never considered previously.

That, in my mind, is the key - truly internalizing and trying to live the Articles of Faith and the core principles of the Gospel, especially developing the characteristics of godliness outlined as the pathway to perfection in the Sermon on the Mount. I have had more truly spiritual experiences since I began to intentionally and purposefully pursue that objective at the beginning of 2008 than I had in the previous twenty years of my life - including in the various leadership callings I have had in the Church. I have grown in important ways as I have striven to decide and define my own faith as an individual, even as I have done so firmly within the structure of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  

Sunday, February 20, 2011

My Talk Last Sunday: Exercising Faith in the Redemption of Jesus Christ

The following is a fleshed out outline of the talk I gave last Sunday.  A few people asked for a copy, so I am posting it here:

1) Jesus has many titles we use to describe him and his relationship to Heavenly Father and us.  Lord, God, Prince of Peace, Master, Judge, Creator, King of Kings, Son of God, Son of Man, Lamb of God, etc.  There are two titles that are so common and that are used together so often that they almost blur together and are seen as synonymous.  They are "Savior" and "Redeemer" - and sometimes we say them so fluently that it comes out sounding like one title - "saviornredeemer".  However, they actually mean very different things, and it is very important to understand those different meanings if we are to exercise faith in the redemption. 

a) To "redeem" means to "recover, purchase, buy back".  (Give example of something of great value that is pawned and must be "redeemed".)  In the Gospel sense, all of us are "fallen" and "lost" when we are born into mortality - where we live in a world influenced to a large degree by Lucifer.  In a way, symbolically, it is not inaccurate for him to be referred to as "the god of this world".  We are separated from God, and the very first thing that has to happen in order for us to return from that separation is to be bought back from the one to whom we were sold, so to speak. 

b) To "save" means to "keep from being discarded".  (Give example of things we value that we just can't bear to throw away, often even long after they have any objective worth left.)  In combination with "redeem", we are "saved" by Jesus pledging to not let us be sold ("lost", "pawned", "separated", etc.) again. 

c) So, before we can be "saved" BY (meaning not just through but also "at the side of") Christ, we must be "redeemed" from Lucifer. 

2) Explain distinction between "being redeemed" and "exercising faith in the redemption".

a) "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."  So, "exercising faith" means acting on hope and unseen evidence.  In the case of faith in Jesus' redemption, this means acting in a way that shows we really believe two things: I) God can and has redeemed all mankind; II) All are worth redeeming. 

b) God can redeem and has redeemed all mankind.   First, we MUST admit that all need to be redeemed, including me and all of you.  "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God." "As in Adam ALL die, so even in Christ shall ALL be made alive."  The first step in exercising faith in the redemption is to accept and truly believe that ALL actually have been redeemed, with the exception of the Sons of Perdition - those very few who look God in the face and swing their fists. 

I think this generally is accepted intellectually as a given - that God has the power to redeem all.  The real question is my second one: Are all worth redeeming - and, more pointedly, do we live in such a way that provides "evidence" that we truly believe they are? 

c) Am I redeemable?  (Discuss issues of self-worth and how our view of ourselves affects how we treat not only ourselves but also others.  Explain that it is harder for some to believe this, especially when issues like clinical depression, bi-polar disorder, post-partum depression, etc. are present.  Mention the issue of arrogance and pride - believing that we will be redeemed because we deserve to be redeemed.) 

d) Are others redeemable?  (Discuss idea that it's easy to believe others are redeemable the further removed from us they are.  Start at the furthest from us [the person born in China 1,000 BC] and move up to our own friends, family, fellow congregants, neighbors, etc. - especially those who have hurt or let us down in some way.  Mention specifically and by category those within our own church family who struggle to feel of worth, acceptable, redeemable, appreciated and/or loved - the single, the divorced, the gay, the politically different.)

e) How we treat two groups of people reflects most clearly our faith in the redemption of Jesus: I) Those who are most different from us; II) Those who are closest to us - of whom our "natural man" has (often unrealistic) expectations - who are different from us in ways that we deem to be important. 

f) Quote from "Where Can I Turn for Peace?" (Hymn #129): "Where is the quiet hand to calm my anguish?  Who, who can understand? He, only one."  Explain that I believe this is NOT the ideal - that I hope all can pray and find comfort and calm, but that the ideal is that there be someone in the here and now, flesh and blood, who can be, as Pres. Uchtdorf said so eloquently in his General Conference talk, "His hands". 

g) Quote "Lord, I Would Follow Thee" - the entire song without the final repeated phrases at the end of each verse.  Emphasize, "In the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can't see."  Explain that over 10% of all our hymns deal directly with consolation and comfort as a major theme and that MANY more include that theme secondarily. 

End with a request for each member to consider those in their lives whom they naturally see as lepers, Samaritans, publicans and sinners and ask them to live their lives so that it is obvious they believe that those people are every bit as "worthy" of Jesus' redemption as they are themselves - that they act as God's hands in both the redeeming and saving of those people - that they create among themselves as a congregation their own "kingdom of nobodies" as a friend once described Jesus' earthly ministry. 

Ask point blank that they each consider what their initial reaction would be if a man staggered into the chapel in the middle of the administration of the sacrament muttering and reeking of alcohol - or if two men walked in holding hands and sat in a pew with their arms around each other - if a young woman entered in a mini skirt, visible tattoos and a nose or eyebrow ring.  Would that immediate reaction be, "Ooooh, get out of here.  You're interrupting our worship service" - or would it be, "Thank God you found us!!"  Would they recoil or embrace? 

Until we can embrace all, especially those who are rejected and seen as irredeemable by others, we can't say honestly that we are exercising faith in the redemption of Jesus.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Seeing God in the Mirror: His Image in Our Countenance

I want to focus this week's New Year's Resolution post on the idea of having the image of God engraven in our countenances.

We are taught that the Holy Ghost is a cleanser (e.g., Moroni 6:4) - a purifier. It appears that we cannot purify ourselves - that we must be purified by regular exposure to the Holy Ghost. Also, it is when our hearts are connected to the true vine that they are able to bring forth fruit meet for repentance (John 14:1-5; Alma 13:13) - which leads to baptism, which leads to receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, which leads to the companionship of the Holy Ghost, which leads to an infusion of the Spirit of God, which leads to an enlivening connection to God, which leads to "doing the will of God", which leads to becoming like God, which leads to seeing God - not only eventually in the next life, but fundamentally in each other as we become more like Him.

In the end, as I John 3:2 states:

"Beloved, now are we the sons [and daughters] of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is."

Being connected to God through the Holy Ghost will allow us to do more than see Him "in all that is around us;" it literally will allow us to see Him "as He is".

In summary, becoming pure in heart means being connected to the cleansing power of the Holy Ghost - and the result of that purity is the ability to see God's will for us and literally, in one way or another and in this life or another, see God as He is. The key, as stated at the beginning of this post, is to pray diligently to be cleansed and hearken (hear and follow) unto the promptings of the Holy Ghost at all times - to repent by becoming more and more like Him as we go through life - to become as He is.

Thus, having a purer heart and cleaner hands is the very foundation of having his image in our countenances - as those things are what help us become like him.

The Jews rejected Jesus' statement that those who had seen Him had seen His Father as the height of blasphemy, and modern Christianity still rejects Mormonism's claim that "as God is, man may become" - but that is the principle taught in the Beatitudes. Truly, the greatest paradigm-shattering aspect of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that we can become joint-heirs with Christ - that we may press forward with faith in the hope that we shall see Him as He is for we shall be like Him - that, someday, we will see God in the mirror.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Saying, "I know . . ."

Many people feel uncomfortable when others say, "I know . . ."

I think the confusion is strongest among those who feel that it is impossible to KNOW anything - that it is lying to say, "I know . . ." The issue to me is how we define "know" in the Gospel context - and how that relates directly how we view bearing a testimony.

Nephi said that he "knew" because of what he had "experienced". (My paraphrase) Alma said the same thing about his vision. He said, "I know this of myself." I tend to translate this as, "I know this FOR myself" - meaning nobody else has to know it, but I have had experiences that I simply can't deny. The things I learned from those experiences are things I can say that I know for myself.

I have had numerous experiences that really are impossible to explain without God being real and the Priesthood providing abnormal insight. I mean that, knowing full well the arguments of the skeptics. If I shared the details, it would be possible to reject them, but it would be impossible to say that my conclusion is not valid, logical, reasonable and possible.

When Elder Packer spoke of testimonies being strengthened by the sharing of them, I believe he was saying that we need to express those things that we believe with all our hearts - that we believe to be true "of ourselves". I also never read anything in the talk that said we need to exaggerate or couch things in specific ways. I don't read in his words the commonly expressed, "Fake it until you make it." In my opinion, that is a twisted translation of the meaning he was trying to convey - and I absolutely hate that expression.

Bearing a testimony can be as simple as saying, "I believe with all my heart" - and it is that type of statement that can bring surety through spiritual confirmation. It can be no more than the willingness to open your mouth and experience it being filled - being willing to let the Lord speak through you without anything being planned in advance, and then realizing what you said was inspired and exactly what the other person needed to hear.

I have had that experience, as well, and it is moving in a way that is hard to describe.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Lean on My Ample Arm

I believe deeply in the concept, "Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28)

One of my fondest memories of the often painful times trying to help a son deal with his struggles from an abusive past was sitting on the couch holding him as he sobbed. He was a full foot taller than I am and MUCH stronger, but I will treasure that moment my entire life.

You better believe I sit in church with my arms around my wife and as many of our kids as I can reach. My boys rested their heads on my shoulders occasionally in Priesthood opening exercises after a long Saturday night until the day they left home - and I hope they will allow me to return the favor when I use a walker to reach our pew.

All of us can be "comforters" in our own spheres.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Mutual Sickos We Really Are

If those who don’t understand our suffering never see it, they never will understand it. 
I know it is painful to expose suffering, but please don’t rob others of the only way for them to understand - unless doing so really is beyond your current ability. If that is the case, increase your ability through becoming more Christ-like - then expose them to it again so they can have another chance to understand.

“Life is pain, Highness,” carries much more import and power than comes across in the movie. Too many of us cover our warts, because we assume nobody else is as hideous as we are - because the make-up they apply to hide theirs works better than ours. I wonder how many others around us in the pews have warts they are hiding, as well - because they are sure we don’t have any and are scared of being seen as hideous by us. What a vicious cycle.

Again, I know it is painful (incredibly so, sometimes) to remove the make-up and go out in public amid the perfectly coifed in our jammies and hair rollers - but sometimes letting others see our warts is the only way to help others reveal theirs. We can’t help each other heal until we collectively recognize and admit our illness - until we see each other as the mutual sickos we really are.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Of Purer Hands and Cleaner Hearts: The Mormon Concept of Soul

First, I want to thank everyone for their thoughts last weekend as I began to contemplate my New Year's Resolution for this month:

Have a purer heart and cleaner hands, and project more the image of God.  

As I read the comments from my initial resolutions post this month, the thought struck me that this resolution symbolizes the Mormon concept of the soul - and the Biblical concept of serving God with one's whole soul.

In Mormonism, the "soul" is seen as the combination of an immortal spirit and a mortal body - and, after the resurrection, we believe both of those "soul" elements will be immortal.  That is the first step to becoming like God - receiving his "image" immortally in the sense that our soul will never be "split" again.  We were created "in the beginning" of our mortal existence in His image in that very literal sense - having our physical bodies "spirit-breathed", if you will, and filled with / animated by our immortal spirit - thus, as Genesis says, becoming a "living soul". Exact appearance doesn't matter all that much to me; it is the concept of clothing a spirit with a body that is the key. 

That unique combination of mortal body and immortal spirit child of God is what allows us to project the image of God at the most fundamental level - and those two aspects of our "soulness" are typically described in terms of our hands and our hearts.  Our hands symbolize what we DO - the acts of our bodies, while our hearts symbolize what we FEEL - the inclinations of our spirits.  Thus, we are in complete harmony with God only when our hands DO the will of God and our hearts FEEL the influence of God. 

Next, "pure" and "clean" both mean "without stain" - and when the condition of purity and cleanliness is extended forward without end ("eternally") it means one is "incorruptible" or "unable to be stained".  Since all of us are sinners and come short of the glory of God, having pure hands and a clean heart is our ultimate goal as to the condition of our soul - meaning we have a "godly soul".  To come full circle in this post, it means we have the image of God "engraven" upon our countenance - not necessarily that we "look like God" in any particular way, but that God has carved us into something that actually has become like Him.  In a very real sense, this process is like the process of taking a block of stone and carving it into a statue - the only difference being that this "engraving" is of a "living sacrifice" of hands and heart - of a whole soul. 

I intend to delve more into each aspect of hands and heart in the next two weeks, but I wanted first to talk of what has struck me regarding what it might mean to "receive his image in your countenance" at a deeper level than merely an outward appearance.  I wanted to talk of an inward metamorphosis generated by an actual engraving process. Most importantly, I want to highlight the way the verse in Alma 5 is worded:

Have ye RECEIVED his image in your countenance?  

God will do the engraving, but it is up to us to receive the engraving that will occur IN our countenances.  Like Joseph Smith's description of being a rough stone rolling, we too must endure the engraver's blows if we are to have His image engraven into our countenances. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

Marriages Fail Because of the Good Times

When my wife and I were sealed, the sealer said something very profound. He said that most marriages don't fail because of the hard times, but rather that they fail because couples don't unite during the good times - and the hard times tear these couples apart. Those that unite during the good times actually grow even closer during the hard times.

I've never forgotten that statement, and I see it in so many applications in our world.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

"I Am [Not] the King of the World"

"Dances with Shrek" or "Why You Shouldn't Crown Yourself King of the World" - Karen H. (By Common Consent)

After reading Karen's post, it struck me that we can take improper credit for being the kings/queens of our worlds - or we can be the king/queen of a totally derivative life.

I'm not sure which one would be more disappointing in the end.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

"The Lord maketh no such thing known unto us."

I feel for Laman and Lemuel, for many reasons.

I am struck by a verse that commonly is used to show their lack of faith - but it hit me in a totally different way. Let me quote D&C 46:13-14 first:

"To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world. To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.”

Now, the statement from Laman and Lemuel in 1 Nephi 15:8-9:

“And I said unto them: Have ye inquired of the Lord? And they said unto me: We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.”

Again, we tend to read this in a pejorative way - that they simply are too wicked or lazy or cavalier to ask. However, what if they were being totally honest? What if they were NOT given the gift to know and have Lehi- or Nephi-like visions - and what if they were led to believe they should be able to have such experiences. Is it any wonder they ended up rebelling and rejecting their father and brother?

I think our scriptures leave it wide open for people to not have miraculous or indescribable spiritual experiences and not be doing anything wrong, necessarily. I believe some truly do not have "such thing(s) known unto (them)." That's where faith has to take over and abide - and I admire those who can abide and endure in faith every bit as much as I admire those who have had such things made known unto them through amazing spiritual experiences. I mean that totally and sincerely.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Monday, February 7, 2011

Understanding and Learning from Correction

I have found that perhaps the truest measure of humility is how someone handles attempts at correction - BOTH correct and incorrect attempts at correction.

To me, the key is the ability to step back and look first for understanding of the criticism. In other words, when I am rebuked I try very hard to ask myself how that rebuke is appropriate - to really spend time considering it, not simply asking shallowly and moving on.

Always, when I am able to take that approach, I learn something that I need to do to be better - something I can improve about myself. This is true even if I reach the conclusion that the original criticism was unfounded.

It's the same approach I try to take whenever I hear someone say something with which I instinctively disagree. When I force myself to stop and consider what part of the statement (or sermon, lesson, etc.) might be valid and valuable, more often than not I end up learning something as a result.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Purer Hands - Cleaner Heart - Image of God

I've really struggled with how to begin framing my focus for this month's resolution, which is:

Have a purer heart and cleaner hands, and project more the image of God. 

It's not that I don't have any ideas about what those things mean, since I've written about each aspect in previous posts, but I have so many thoughts that are fighting for order in my mind that I've struggled to figure out how to start.  So, I am going to ask again for input from everyone who reads my blog in an attempt to sort out my thoughts and decide how to construct my initial focus for the upcoming week. 

With that introduction, I am asking a straightforward question:

What does it mean to you to have a "purer heart" and "cleaner hands" - and to "project more the image of God"? 

I appreciate any insight you can provide. 

Friday, February 4, 2011

God Will Honor Sincere Attempts to Follow Him, Regardless of Religion or Denomination

I believe God recognizes and rewards EVERY sincere, good action undertaken by EVERY one of His children - regardless of whether or not those actions carry any eternal efficacy in and of themselves as ordinances. 

If a Christian priest / pastor / minister acts according to her best understanding and attempts to glorify God through her actions, I believe strongly that God recognizes and will reward her for it. That is, after all, the heart of our proxy work for the dead - especially for those who were “valiant” in following the light they were given.

 In other words, while we believe it is necessary to perform a proxy baptism for someone who has been baptized without what we see as binding Priesthood authority, that does not mean we are invalidating the faith of the person who was baptized - or the faith of the person who performed the baptism. Just because I believe a particular creed is an abomination does not mean that I believe a sincere attempt to follow Jesus and express one’s faith through baptism is an abomination - even if I simultaneously accept the need to perform a proxy baptism. Not even remotely do I believe that there is no power and faith imbued in actions outside the Restored Priesthood.

I honor faith and sincerity -
wherever it is found, and I believe with all my heart that God does, as well.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Scriptures: Everything Need Not Be Literal

There is absolutely no way to tell which things recorded in the Old Testament literally happened and which ones didn't - and a reference to something in another scriptural record (or even a prophet's belief that it was literal) doesn't mean it has to be literal. Let me use the Tower of Babel as an example.

Who wrote the Books of Genesis and Ether, and how were they compiled? We don't know about the author of Genesis, but Ether wrote the Book of Ether - which then was abridged by Moroni. Ether was at least 25 identified generations removed from Jared and his brother, but there are two instances where "descendant" is used instead of "son" - so we don't know how many generations actually separated the first Jaredite and the last one who wrote the record. We have no idea what kind of detail Ether had at his disposal, if it was entirely a written record or partially an oral tradition, who selected the information to include and what interpretation to record, etc.

All we know is that it covered a very long period of time.

We have no details in the abridgment by Moroni about how Ether recorded his account or its length - or how radically Moroni himself edited Ether's account. All we know is that Moroni's account was even more selectively sketchy than the record Mormon compiled, since the Book of Ether is much shorter than even the Book of Alma - while covering a time period that was multiple times longer than the entire rest of the Book of Mormon.

We also have no idea whatsoever the details of what caused the scattering of the people and the confusion of languages mentioned in the Bible and the Book of Mormon; it could have been nothing more miraculous than a great natural disaster that scattered the people - and that scattering inevitably would lead to a divergence of languages among people who didn't take written records with them. No matter what happened, the belief that the Lord was behind it could have been the assumption of a people who believed in that type of divine activity - whether or not they were correct.

Finally, Joseph obviously used his own language and understanding in translating the Book of Mormon. There is no way to tell if the description in Ether 1:33 (where the tower and scattering is mentioned) came from Jared (or his brother), some later descendant, Ether, Moroni or Joseph's ready translation vocabulary. Given what we know of the general process of multi-generational record keeping and translation, the central theme could remain in tact even as many incidental errors and interpretations and allegories and myths crept into the record. Having later prophets reference the accounts codified into scripture says nothing about the literal or figurative nature of the stories - only the lesson that was intended when the stories were written and that can be taken from them.

What I am saying is that much of the Old Testament before King David and almost the entire Book of Ether could be figurative, inspired mythology without invalidating any of the Church's truth claims. It is not the responsibility of the believer to prove that point; it is the responsibility of the non-believer to give an example of something from the OT that MUST be literal to destroy truth claims. After all, if even Jesus could reference events that now are believed to be not historically accurate but figurative instead - and if he could teach in parables that weren't "historically accurate" - and if earlier prophets might have speaking in stories that functioned as extended parables that later generations might have taken as real accounts - why should Prophets now and in the past be held to an even higher standard than the Savior employed?

Personally, I have never seen something from those most ancient, canonized records that has to be literal for the Church's current claims to be valid.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011