Thursday, June 30, 2011

God communicates through all things

"Written in the many languages of the world are all sorts of messages that completely escape us because we don't speak those particular languages" (H. Eyring)

The same can be said for the messages God has for us -- written in a spiritual language that we will miss unless we become sensitive to the Spirit. These messages are present in the scriptures, our interactions with each other, AND all throughout the physical world. Other than an appreciation for the complexity and beauty of the world, I think the physical world gets overlooked as a source of spiritual understanding because we don't think to allow the Spirit into secular learning (science). But "The gospel is the truth. All truth is part of the gospel regardless of how the truth has been learned" or in other words, anything that we learn anywhere that is true is learning from God (H. Eyring). D&C 93:24 - And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come;

This is a big deal because it means we can apply the same process we use for understanding "religious" truth to science, and it all can work to expand our understanding of God. Learning a true thing about, for example, the natural world, offers insight into the nature of God -- one of the many ways that He set up to communicate with us on a DAILY basis. "communications are essential to our functioning in the world and to our relationship with its Creator" but not just what we typically think of "communications" (prayer, scriptures, etc. those these are MARVELOUS communications) because "the Creator of the universe has implanted a message in every created thing. Geology, astronomy, physics -- all science is really nothing more than an effort to read those messages" (H. Eyring). All science is, after all, an effort to understand the truth about the world and therefor is an effort to understand ourselves and God. We must learn to be sensitive to the spirit in all types of learning because there is communication from our loving Heavenly Father to us in all things. I think this is true of all types of science; understanding the way photosynthesis works, complex mathematical physics, the effect of music on the brain, and the phycological power of the written word.

"Communication of information involves both a sender and a receiver. The gospel flows from the Creator of the world who sees the end from the beginning. It flows to all who are able to receive it." (H. Eyring) D&C 88:6-13 -- He that ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth; Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made. As also he is in the moon, and is the light of the moon, and the power thereof by which it was made; As also the light of the stars, and the power thereof by which they were made; And the earth also, and the power thereof, even the earth upon which you stand. And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings; Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space—The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things.

God is in the sun and its power, the moon and stars, and our own very physiological and phycological selves. He speaks to us through the power of these things and their make up. Everything that "fills the immensity of space" is of Him and He is "in the midst" -- and messages to us from the God of the Universe are written into it all if we learn to understand the "language."

Saturday, June 11, 2011

GUEST POST-er: Jim Nielsen

Love Unfeigned

"omnia vincit amor"
Latin phrase from Eclogue X by Virgil ('love conquers all')

Christ was said to have "tread the winepress alone." 
However, we know that Christ wasn't fully alone while he suffered in Gethsemane, as an angel came -- strengthening him and offering divine comfort. So, if "aloneness" truly became part of Christ's complete descent below all things, it appears to not have been fully accomplished in the Garden. It wouldn't be until the pains of the cross, as Christ hung in agony with no angel to comfort and no Fatherly spirit to reassure, that his ultimate encounter with aloneness would occur.

In his solitary state on the cross, Christ cried out "my god, my god, why hast thou forsaken me?" Certainly no actions of Christ's merited such a withdrawal of God's quickening spirit... Is it possible that God's spirit was withdrawn as a natural response to the avanlanche of evil that fell upon our redeemer? It was in this moment that all the horrors, sins, and evils of Gethsemane returned, bearing their massive burden. It would seem only natural that God's spirit withdraw when the consequences of such dark, universal sin become concentrated in one single moment.

This ultimate concentration of universal sin in this last hour could most certainly have been what left our Savior without Divine support, to His complete descent... It was our sins, our actions, which placed the Savior in such an incomprehensible moment of despair, pain, and aloness. This withdrawal of the Father's spirit that left Christ in an utterly horrifying state of loneliness and vulnerability may not have been simply an item on the Atonement "checklist." It very well may have been the natural consequence of all our sins falling upon him. Thus, It wasn't God taking away his spirit per se, but rather the ultimate concentration of our sins driving it away.

Because my actions and choices drove Christ to a moment of so much emotional, spiritual, mental, and physical pain, I often wonder why he would even bother to help me? Would not both common logic and justice dictate I merit no such mercy or help? Surely I deserve everything evil that becomes of me, as I have chosen my own path and, as such, do not merit the help others, especially Him who I have so consciously wronged. Ask yourself, would you show patience, long suffering and forgiveness to those who caused you the most intense pain, suffering, and despair known in the history of the world? A pain so great that it caused "God the greatest of all to suffer and tremble"?

For me, a logical analysis of such questions holds no plausible explanation. The only answer that comes to my mind is encapulsated in one word: love. He helps us because he loves us. Not a romantic love, or even a human love, but an incomprehensible love that is divine. This love is a concept, an idea, a principle which logically makes no sense. It is justice, rather, that makes sense to me. It makes sense that we should all equally suffer for what the mistakes we have made...eye for an eye. We do not merit affection from those we have so evilly wronged; yet, seemingly illogically, Christ's love remains for those willing to grasp it.

Christ has an unimaginable love for us all -- a love unfeinged. He suffered so much for me, because of me, and why? The answer seems only to be understood in context of the word love. It is a word that, only recently have I discovered, seems as deply unfathomable as the atonement itself.

(thank you Jim for this post)

Friday, June 10, 2011

truth doesn't mean absolutes

I've been reading "Reflections of a Scientist" by Henry Eyring (he is known for his discovery of the universally accepted absolute reaction rate formula). A lot of what he said resonated with me because I've been thinking about faith and doubt a lot lately. I've thought about why people can't seem to accept the Church and why so may drift away from it. Eyring wrote that "I'm sure the reasons are different and varied. I can understand if a person wants to misbehave and has to rationalize to himself. He has to think he's all right. But I also understand that people who think they have to be as smart as the Lord, understand everything, and have no contradictions in their minds may have trouble. There are all kinds of contradictions that I don't understand, but I find the same kinds of contradictions in science, and I haven't decided to apostatize from science."

This idea of wanting to "be as smart as the Lord, understand everything, and have no contradictions" caught my attention. While we are encouraged to seek out understanding and knowledge, doing so in absolutes is negative. This seems like an important concept to me, and I like it because it tends towards an understanding of the Church - and the gospel as we comprehend it - as a human institution and not one which contains perfect answers. 

While God Himself (and His love, justice, plan, etc.) is perfect, nothing about our world, our understanding, even our existence is free of frailties and incongruities. This is, of course, purposeful because "In the long run, the truth is its own most powerful advocate. The Lord uses imperfect people. He often allows their errors to stand uncorrected. He may have a purpose in doing so, such as to teach us that religious truth comes forth "line upon line, precept upon precept" in a process of sifting and winnowing similar to the one I know so well in science." 

It's the very process Alma outlines in explaining how the word is like a seed that will grow if it is a good seed and bring forth fruit. Bit by bit it expands and year by year it brings forth more fruit (Alma 32).

It requires faith and trust to come upon truth but not necessarily absolute answers. Remember my post about how God Himself places us in positions where we have to have faith in the midst of a paradox? Choosing to believe isn't a matter of having a good answer for every question. "You can't intellectualize your way to a testimony. There will always be another questions beyond the one you have just answered. Incidentally, the same is true of science. None of its findings are final. Still, some people seem to stumble when they run into a contradiction." That's a hard thing for a lot of people to stomach. We want absolutes. We want absolute statements of truth in religious principles. We want church leaders to stand as absolute pillars of morality. But that isn't the world we live in... and in all reality, it's better this way.

There is a give and take, in science and religious, and it's less a matter of discovering absolute truth (reaching some end point - having "enough") as it is gaining a little clearer understanding "precept upon precept" growing in light and truth. 
2 Nephi 28
29 Wo be unto him that shall say: We have received the word of God, and we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough!
30 For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.
Says Eyring: "There was a time when may people thought that the pure understand of the scriptures required the acceptance of a flat earth. The Bible speaks of the four corners of the earth and of all the stars in the firmament, conjuring up the image of lights on the inside of a giant dome covering the earth. In the time of Columbus, many people thought a flat earth was a religious necessity. When it turned out to be round, Christ's teachings were found to be just as consistent with the new view as with the old. In fact, the great underlying principles of faith were brought into bolder relief when the clutter of false notions were removed from around them." 

New scientific theories are always disproving old ones. Henry Eyring used as an example the concept of mechanical determinism, "that if a sufficiently expert mathematician were given the state of the universe at any instant of time, he could calculate the state of things at all times to come. This left no place for the great religious principle of free will. Then quantum mechanics brought with it the uncertainty principle. This principles eliminates the possibility of predicting the future exactly, and tends to confirm the fundamental Christian tenet that man enjoys agency as a divine gift."

There are many places within my religious understanding that are dark and murky, full of contradictions, and/or don't quite make sense. I really do believe that God allows this, that it is a fundamental part of His plan for us, because we need to learn to have faith. To move forward with partial understanding. To trust spiritual impressions in the face of doubt and unanswered questions. 

Of course I don't mean blind obedience. True faith is based upon the same method science uses -- believe something could be true, test it, measure the results, move forward with your conclusion and expand upon it.

I do believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is where a fullness of understanding is available to those who are willing to seek it out. It may have it's faults and discrepancies, which those who are against the church are all to happy to point out. But I agree with Henry Eyring that while Joseph may have made errors in translating this "would merely prove that he was human, a fact about which I was already quite sure. It would also show that the Creator is tolerant of a mistake now and then. These seem quite hopeful ideas to me, since I am clearly human and have made at least my full share of mistakes."

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


But when you teach the nature and character of God  and Jesus, please observe that their virtuousness (the Father’s and the Son’s) is not a vague virtuousness; it is not a generalized goodness. It is an attribute-by-attribute reality. Thus the fundamental goal each of us has been given is the same.
It's easy to forget this, that we have been put here to learn "attribute-by-attribute" how to be like God.
Those attributes include love, justice, meekness, mercy, patience, power, truth, and knowledge. And these qualities are not acquired by attending a lecture. They are acquired experience by experience, and “line upon line,” and “precept upon precept.” (See 2 Nephi 28:30.) They are also learned in process of time, and they are developed in mortality’s clinical experiences, in that intriguing scriptural phrase, “according to the flesh.” (Alma 7:11, 12.) In fact, when we see the scriptures that say there is no other way,” it is not exclusively a reference to the way of salvation but it also means (in my opinion) there is no other way that our Father in Heaven could bring this kind of growth and development into our lives except we pass through this mortal experience. It’s here that we’ll learn patience. Patience can’t be learned in the abstract, nor can mercy. And the relevant clinical experiences come to us relentlessly in life, if we will but use them.
It's the "use" of them that is difficult. Sometimes I think it is all I can do to endure... but it's not, there are things to be learned. And it's easy to get caught up - in good times and in bad - and loose sight of what I ultimately should be concentrating on. I have a tendency to want to just 'have fun' to pass the time until 'real life' starts -- but real life is NOW. Daily life is FULL of chances for me to expand self-awareness and to be more considerate & patient, find & make opportunities serve more selflessly, and love the people in my life.

And then there are the trials...
the divine tutorials through which [we] will pass individually are not cause [us] to abandon their cheerful spirit toward life. “Nevertheless the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people; yea, he trieth their patience and their faith.” (Mosiah 23:21.) This is the kind of scripture that makes the soul shiver just a bit. But we must not let our students or ourselves take divine tutoring to mean divine indifference. The trials of our faith and our patience will be real. But they will not be so much as to overwhelm us, for God knows our bearing capacity.
It's not a matter of 'make-or-break' because the trials of life are designed by a loving Heavenly Father to 'make-or-break&make' us. They are a part of His grace, and if we allow it they will make us like God even if we 'break' because when we 'break' or fail in our efforts to do His will we can still learn through repentance and continuing on (it's only when we fall and then do not get back up that the 'making' stops).

We will be given opportunities to learn to be truthful. We will be given opportunities to learn to be merciful. We will be given opportunities to learn to forgive. And to be faithful, patient, charitable, etc. We may fail to learn them the first time through... but the chance will come again and again until we do understand, because every Godly attribute "is a part of the gospel and we either take each principle seriously or it does not become a part of our personality."

Every trial we experience will come with a gift for us in its hands.

*Quotes from BUT A FEW DAYS by Elder Neal A. Maxwell