Monday, January 7, 2013

a finite god AND an infinite God

My roommate and I were having a discussion... er... argument, about the omniscience of God. I believe  (& she will have to correct me if I am wrong here?) that our argument came down do whether or not God knows what we are going to do or that he is able to predict it. Thinking back on it now I'm pretty sure we both actually agreed with each other on a lot of the things we thought we were disagreeing on because those two things are essentially the same (it all depends on your definition of "know" but that's a topic for another post). Anyways it led me to ponder more on the subject. This quote is where I landed (underlining by me for emphasis):
Joseph Smith's part in authoring the "Lectures on Faith" is still uncertain; they seem mainly the work of Sidney Rigdon, with significant input from Joseph,1 and, of course, as many readers have suspected, reflect a very early stage of Mormon doctrinal expression about God, one still heavily influenced by traditional Christian ideas and categories. For instance, God is described as a personage of Spirit, only Christ as a personage of tabernacle, and the Holy Ghost not as a personage at all but a kind of single unifying mind of both the father and son. Those who teach from the "Lectures on Faith" have had to editorialize, to add footnotes and explanations, in order to make it conform to later orthodox Mormon thought, as, for instance, Joseph Fielding Smith does at the beginning of his book, Doctrines of Salvation. This problem was recognized in the inclination by Church authorities to revise the "Lectures on Faith" in the early 1900s, or at least to add a footnote, and then the decision instead to exclude them from the Doctrine and Covenants in 1921.2  However, Joseph Smith never repudiated them. It is likely that, had they been written later as his understanding developed, he too would have qualified or explained some of the terms used there, but I think he saw no inherent contradiction between them and his later understanding of God. He wrote, shortly before his death, "By proving contraries, truth is made manifest,"3 and certainly could see the contraries in his understanding of God: that God could rightly, as he is in the scriptures, be described as having all knowledge and power, sufficient to provide us salvation in our sphere of existence (and thus being infinite) but could also be described in the terms revealed to Joseph in the Doctrine and Covenants as unable to create the universe and its laws, or us, out of nothing or to force us to be good (and thus "finite"). --Eugene England

What I gather from this is that we were BOTH right. God is omniscient -- all knowing/all perceiving/etc. but He also knows the hearts and minds of His children and is a great predictor of behavior. There is not contradiction in this -- and by proving our "contraries" I expect we will find great truth.

(I'll keep you posted.)

Sunday, January 6, 2013

"By proving contraries, truth is made manifest"

If you've ready any of my other posts responding to/commenting on the writing of Eugene England then you know I love his thoughts on contraries.

Hence the quote from the prophet Joseph Smith that is serving as the title for this post:
By proving contraries, truth is made manifest.
England explains this, writing that "tragic paradox lies at the heart of things and that life and salvation, truth and progress, come only through anxiously, bravely grappling with those paradoxes, both in action and in thought" (Dialogues with Myself ix).

T. Givens gives an example of this, explaining in The God Who Weeps, that obedience to God “is our way of displaying trust in His counsel, and faithfulness effects the gradual change of heart and mind that moves us forward. The lovely paradox of willing compliance with what an ancient prophet called “The great plan of happiness,” is that conformity to law breeds both freedom and individualism. We may think a leaping child, in the euphoria of his imagination, enjoys unfettered freedom when he tells us he is going to land on the moon. But the rocket scientist hard at work in the laboratory, enmeshed in formulae and equations she has labored to master, and slaving away in perfect conformity with the laws of physics, is the one with true freedom: for she will land on the moon; the boy will not (Kindle Edition Loc 1850).

It is only by embracing the paradox of freedom through conformity that true liberations comes. It is only by engaging in the cognitive dissonance of contraries and continuing to choose faith that progress is made.

This is in part because it is through fundamental opposition that this earth life makes salvation possible. We are part of a world that is "full of opposites, paradoxes, incompletions -- all of which cause pain and loss as well as make passible struggle and growth and joy" (Dialogues with Myself x).

It is also because we must experience the darkness in order to independently and completely choose the light. My roommate quoted this one day while we were discussing something along these lines:
"God works by contraries so that a man feels himself to be lost in the very moment when he is on the point of being saved." --From Martin Luther's 95 theses.
We grow through contraries, but we are also empowered through them. When we feel the most lost, confused, conflicted, and all but overcome by the incongruity of things before us AND THEN STILL choose faith and obedience, we reach a kind of transcendence -- a special communion with the Lord as we are made holy -- and find ourselves choosing to conform to the very conditions that empower us.
"And again, verily I say unto you, that which is governed by law is also preserved by law and perfected and sanctified by the same" (D&C 88:34)
The keeping of law makes us holy, it sanctifies us -- and the Lord has promised:
"Sanctify yourselves and ye shall be endowed with power" (D&C 43:16)
Every moment of paradox and contradiction is an opportunity to yield our hearts to God (Helaman 3:33-35). They are the setting in which we choose time and time again to maintain our integrity in a context where the options before us cannot be easily and rationally resolved.

To go back to something I've quoted on this blog before:
I am convinced that there must be grounds for doubt as well as belief, in order to render the choice more truly a choice, and therefore the more deliberate, and laden with personal vulnerability and investment. The option to believe must appear on one’s personal horizon like the fruit of paradise, perched precariously between sets of demands held in dynamic tension. One is, it would seem, always provided with sufficient materials out of which to fashion a life of credible conviction or dismissive denial. We are acted upon, in other words, by appeals to our personal values, our yearnings, our fears, our appetites and our ego. What we choose to embrace, to be responsive to, is the purest reflection of who we are and what we love. That is why faith, the choice to believe, is in the final analysis an action that is positively laden with moral significance (T. Givens qtd. from an article by Boyd Peterson).
Something to remember. By proving myself in the contraries of my life, the truth of who I am and what I love is made manifest.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

new year resolution: don't flinch

"You don’t know anyone at the party, so you don’t want to go. You don’t like cottage cheese, so you haven’t eaten it in years. This is your choice, of course, but don’t kid yourself: it’s also the flinch. 
Your personality is not set in stone. You may think a morning coffee is the most enjoyable thing in the world, but it’s really just a habit. Thirty days without it, and you would be fine. You think you have a soul mate, but in fact you could have had any number of spouses. You would have evolved differently, but been just as happy. 
You can change what you want about yourself at any time. You see yourself as someone who can’t write or play an instrument, who gives in to temptation or makes bad decisions, but that’s really not you. It’s not ingrained. It’s not your personality. Your personality is something else, something deeper than just preferences, and these details on the surface, you can change anytime you like. 
If it is useful to do so, you must abandon your identity and start again. Sometimes, it’s the only way. 
Set fire to your old self. It’s not needed here. It’s too busy shopping, gossiping about others, and watching days go by and asking why you haven’t gotten as far as you’d like. This old self will die and be forgotten by all but family, and replaced by someone who makes a difference. 
Your new self is not like that. Your new self is the Great Chicago Fire—overwhelming, overpowering, and destroying everything that isn’t necessary."