Monday, March 12, 2018

Reminder: Testimony of St. John

He that treasures my teachings, and stands ready, watching for every communication I send him, is he who shows love for me. To those who show love for me, my Father will show love to them, and I love all those, and I will personally minister to them.
—TSJ 10:12

It’s been a little over a year since the newly revealed Testimony of St. John became available. Our local fellowship has spent much of the last year studying this incredible record, and we’re still not close to finished with it. The depth of what can be gleaned from its careful study is truly astonishing. If you haven’t looked at it lately, or if you’d like additional resources to help you get the most from John’s testimony, the following website will prove helpful:

The fact that newly revealed scripture has come to us, and more will yet come, should cause us great rejoicing. It is a blessing to us, and a sign of God’s love and continuing marvelous work. Our attention to it is a sign of our Love for God.

Judas (not Iscariot), asked, Lord, how is it you will manifest yourself to us, but not to the world? Jesus answered and said to him, If a man loves me, he will stand ready, watching for every communication I will send to him; and my Father will also love him, and we will come visit him, and continually abide by his side. Whoever claims to love me but does not stand ready, watching for every communication I will send, indeed does not love me. These teachings are not from me, but come from the Father who sent me. 
—TSJ 10:13-14

Friday, February 2, 2018

Ask, Seek, Knock, Conclusion: Holy Ghost

He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? 
—Acts 19:2-3

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

I pictured the same thing every time. 

Sitting in sacrament meeting as a child, whenever someone got confirmed, at the exact moment the words “receive the Holy Ghost” were said, I pictured a smiling, disembodied spirit in white robes, rushing in through the window like a ghost—to possess the person sitting in the chair. The whole idea thrilled me and gave me goosebumps. God just flew in through the window and climbed inside someone!

Of course, that was just a childish fantasy, right? (Because I also pictured “holding the priesthood” as my dad standing in front of the congregation, holding a mason jar of some strange substance at church, like it was his calling or something. I even used to tell my friends, “At our church, my dad holds the priesthood.”) Ah, the pictures we paint.

So then, who, or what, is the Holy Ghost? Is it just some sort of energy field that fills the universe? Is it a person? Is he male? Is it a calling? Is it a God? Is it actually a ghost?

Aside from some vague generalities taught in primary, as a people we generally know very little about this important topic. In fact, given the incredible importance of this topic, and our immense ignorance, I don’t believe it’s an exaggeration to state that this topic sits at the forefront of our damnation.

So let’s do something about it.


Today’s post is actually the conclusion to a post I wrote over three years ago, called Feeling, and Fooling, the Spirit. That particular post is still one of the most-read posts on this blog—but it was really just an introduction to the topic, designed to deconstruct the common unbelief that feelings equal revelation.

(As an aside, if you want to see just how prevalent the feelings-equals-revelation unbelief remains among Mormons, just Google “feeling the spirit.” Pretty much the entire first page will be LDS sources—despite the fact that Mormons make up only about 2% of the Christian population. I believe the LDS church would trademark the phrase, “feeling the spirit” if it could.)

In this present series about the process of receiving revelation, we’ve at last reached the other end of the discussion that began with that prior post. Just as at the beginning, we will have to deconstruct some unbelief to get to truth, and as at the beginning, the unbelief centers on the Holy Ghost.

One other note: to make this post accessible to as wide an audience as possible, all noted scripture references will come from the current LDS edition of the scriptures, rather than the Restoration Edition.

Haunted History

Let’s get our bearings with a quick discussion of how we got to the holy mess we’re in.

Though true teachings about the Holy Ghost go clear back to Adam, our current corrupt understanding harks back to early Christianity. Specifically, the idea of the trinity, as reflected in the early Christian creeds, made the Holy Ghost a person and part of the three-in-one god who manifests in different ways, different days, but is ultimately all the same being. But isn’t. But is.

Of course, that being is specifically described as being “incomprehensible,” so it’s no wonder that this three-in-one god idea only serves to confuse the issue, and stands in direct contrast to Joseph Smith’s revolutionary statement that, “If men do not comprehend the character of God they do not comprehend themselves.”

By the time Joseph Smith came on the scene, Christianity had labored over 1500 years with their still-incomprehensible god, who was universally accepted as the very god of the Bible. It was just a given that any Christian who believed the Bible, must de-facto believe in the trinity or be a heretic. As the Athanasian Creed put it after describing this mythical being: “This is the catholic [original] faith; which except a man believe truly and firmly, he cannot be saved.” The Protestant churches that sprang from the Catholic church kept firm belief in the trinity as the only possible way to properly interpret the Bible. Christianity and trinity were indivisible.

Hence, when Joseph Smith organized a church and began attracting exclusively Christian converts, they naturally brought their three-in-one god with them. Much of Joseph’s ministry, therefore, consisted of teaching truth and attempting, with little success, to replace millennia of false notions, or to, as he termed it, “break down superstition.” Said he:
But there has been a great difficulty in getting anything into the heads of this generation. It has been like splitting hemlock knots with a corn-dodger for a wedge, and a pumpkin for a beetle. Even the Saints are slow to understand. I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions: they cannot stand the fire at all. (HC 6:184-185)
The Lectures on Faith, edited by Joseph and comprising the “Doctrine” part of the Doctrine and Covenants was perhaps Joseph’s greatest attempt at setting matters straight concerning the God we worship and the makeup of the Godhead. It provides clear and direct information about these matters, though sadly, a later generation of church leaders, with inferior understanding, taught contrary ideas to Joseph’s.

By 1899, the view of the trinity, taught by James Talmage in A Study of the Articles of Faith, became the orthodox LDS view, published and copyrighted by the LDS church. It included the following language, which probably reflects what you’ve been taught if you’re LDS:
The Godhead: The Trinity—three personages composing the great presiding council of the universe have revealed themselves to man: (1) God the Eternal Father; (2) His Son, Jesus Christ; and (3) the Holy Ghost. That these three are separate individuals, physically distinct from each other, is demonstrated by the accepted records of the divine dealings with man. (Articles of Faith, p. 35)
The Holy Ghost, called also Spirit, and Spirit of the Lord, Spirit of God, Comforter, and Spirit of Truth, is not tabernacled in a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of spirit; yet we know that the Spirit has manifested Himself in the form of a man. Through the ministrations of the Spirit the Father and the Son may operate in their dealings with mankind; through Him knowledge is communicated, and by Him the purposes of the Godhead are achieved. The Holy Ghost is the witness of the Father and the Son, declaring to man their attributes, bearing record of the other personages of the Godhead. (Articles of Faith, p. 38)
Unfortunately, Talmage’s views contradicted Joseph Smith’s views in several particulars. As a result, a committee that included Talmage and five others, arbitrarily removed the Lectures from our scriptural canon in 1921, without a vote of the church membership. Their explanation for their actions was essentially that Joseph simply got it wrong, being young and ignorant and all.

And so even today, the LDS church publishes and teaches fuzzy, incomplete, and inaccurate ideas about the Holy Ghost being a disembodied person in the Godhead, a “ghost” that travels around visiting people, leading primary kids to form silly pictures in their minds, where they remain forever. And thus, “feeling the spirit” is the LDS buzzword and focus of their emotion-based religion.

But wait—we’re adults, capable of reading, critical thinking, and analysis. We have the scriptures before us, as well as the direct statements of a man who stood in the presence of the Father and the Son. So let’s spend some time with those resources, analyzing what they actually say. The only preparation required for this journey is to let go of our crayon pictures and superstitions. Let’s start with a blank slate and let the scriptures inform us.

Filled with Light

In Part 4 of this series, we discussed repentance, which is most simply defined as turning to face God. This means, among other things, that God’s will becomes your focus of attention. To the degree that your focus is single to God, you receive God’s light:
The light of the body is the eye; if, therefore, thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If, therefore, the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! (3 Nephi 13:22-23)
OK, so if your eye is single (focused only on the things of God) your whole body is filled with light. Good so far? Moving on:
The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth. (D&C 93:36)
So there is some relationship between light, truth and intelligence. Therefore, being filled with light implies being filled with intelligence or truth, particularly because this light we’re discussing results from having an eye single to God, or more particularly, God’s glory, which definition we just read.

Here are a couple more items that help cement this relationship. Remember the glory of God is intelligence, or light and truth, as you consider these:
And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things. (D&C 88:67, emphasis mine)
He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things. (D&C 93:28 emphasis mine)
And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come (D&C 93:24 emphasis mine)

Being filled with this intelligence and light gives you the power to comprehend or know all things, which is, in fact, the function of the Holy Ghost:

And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things. (Moroni 10:5 emphasis mine)
Therefore, having an eye single to the glory of God fills you with light and gives you knowledge of truth, which is a function of the Holy Ghost. This is the point to remember as we move forward.

Holy Spirit

In the Feeling and Fooling post, I noted there is a difference between the Holy Spirit and Holy Ghost, though scripture sometimes is a bit loose with that distinction and doesn’t make it clear. Back then, I didn’t go into that distinction because I knew it would take a lot more explaining and background, which is now, finally, in place.

So let’s take a look at this passage, where Nephi notes a difference between the Holy Spirit and Holy Ghost:
And now I, Nephi, cannot write all the things which were taught among my people; neither am I mighty in writing, like unto speaking; for when a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men. But behold, there are many that harden their hearts against the Holy Spirit, that it hath no place in them; wherefore, they cast many things away which are written and esteem them as things of naught. (2 Ne. 33:1-2 emphasis mine)
Note that Holy Ghost refers to power animating both the speaker and willing listener; it is a shared connection between them and God. Holy Spirit, on the other hand, refers to the power rejected by those who harden their hearts. It never gets into their hearts. This distinction becomes important as we move ahead.

From the Lectures on Faith: (Lecture 5:2), shown here in purple:
There are two personages who constitute the great, matchless, governing and supreme power over all things—by whom all things were created and made, that are created and made, whether visible or invisible: whether in heaven, on earth, or in the earth, under the earth, or throughout the immensity of space—They are the Father and the Son: 
OK, got that? Two, and only two, personages: the Father and the Son. Moving on—
The Father being a personage of spirit, glory and power: possessing all perfection and fulness: The Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, a personage of tabernacle, made, or fashioned like unto man, or being in the form and likeness of man, or, rather, man was formed after his likeness, and in his image;—he is also the express image and likeness of the personage of the Father:
OK, so the Father and Son are personages.

The Father is a personage of—

For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light, and whatsoever is light is Spirit, even the Spirit of Jesus Christ. And the Spirit giveth light to every man that cometh into the world; and the Spirit enlighteneth every man through the world, that hearkeneth to the voice of the Spirit. (D&C 84:45-46) 
Ye were also in the beginning with the Father; that which is Spirit, even the Spirit of truth…The Spirit of truth is of God. I am the Spirit of truth, and John bore record of me, saying: He received a fulness of truth, yea, even of all truth (D&C 93:23, 26)
Glory: intelligence, or light and truth, as we’ve already covered.

Power: See Part 1 of this series for a discussion of God’s power.

And the Son, a personage of tabernacle, which is to say, capable of taking up his abode here in a temporary, mortal body. But also—
…possessing all the fulness of the Father, or, the same fulness with the Father…And he being the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, and having overcome, received a fulness of the glory of the Father—possessing the same mind with the Father, which mind is the Holy Spirit, that bears record of the Father and the Son...
Now there’s a third entity mentioned: the Holy Spirit, here specifically defined as the “mind” of the Father.

Two personages, one mind. That makes three.

Now, back to the Lecture:
...and these three are one, or in other words, these three constitute the great, matchless, governing and supreme power over all things: by whom all things were created and made, that were created and made: and these three constitute the Godhead, and are one: The Father and the Son possessing the same mind, the same wisdom, glory, power and fulness: Filling all in all--the Son being filled with the fulness of the Mind, glory and power, or, in other words, the Spirit, glory and power of the Father—possessing all knowledge and glory, and the same kingdom: sitting at the right hand of power, in the express image and likeness of the Father—a Mediator for man—being filled with the fulness of the Mind of the Father, or, in other words, the Spirit of the Father: which Spirit is shed forth upon all who believe on his name and keep his commandments: and all those who keep his commandments shall grow up from grace to grace, and become heirs of the heavenly kingdom, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ; possessing the same mind, being transformed into the same image or likeness, even the express image of him who fills all in all: being filled with the fulness of his glory, and become one in him, even as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one.
Ok, wow. So there are two personages in the Godhead, but three entities. The third entity, called the Holy Spirit, is defined as the mind of God. The Father and Son share this mind, and invite all of us to share it as well—to become filled with His glory, (intelligence, light, truth) which we discussed above. Back to Lecture 5:
Question 3: How many personages are there in the Godhead?

Answer: Two: the Father and the Son.
The Holy Spirit is NOT a personage, but is defined as the mind of God. Those who keep His commandments will receive grace for grace and will obtain the same mind, which makes them one with the Father and the Son.
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. (D&C 88: 6-10.)
This Spirit of God, or mind of God, or Light of Christ at its lowest level, is that same power, or force, or light, that is in all things, that gives life to all things, and that quickens (makes alive) our understandings. But it is a power, not a person. It is a communication connection by which Christ’s light (intelligence/truth) can be in all things, including us. It is our connection to God.

So thus far, we’ve delved into the Holy Spirit, but not the Holy Ghost. The Holy Spirit is the mind of God, providing a connection, through His light or power, to His truth. Now let’s consider the Holy Ghost.

Holy Ghost
The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us. (D&C 130:22)
At first this statement may seem to contradict the Lectures on Faith by saying that the Holy Ghost is a personage. In fact, this is the supposed contradiction that ultimately caused church leadership to reject Joseph’s lectures and pull them out of the scriptures. But careful consideration will show there is no contradiction at all. Remember, the Lectures on Faith specifically speak of the mind of God, which is the Holy Spirit, and not a personage. The Holy Ghost is something more. Let’s look at some specific definitions dealing with the Holy Ghost:
Therefore it is given to abide in you; the record of heaven; the Comforter; the peaceable things of immortal glory; the truth of all things; that which quickeneth all things, which maketh alive all things; that which knoweth all things, and hath all power according to wisdom, mercy, truth, justice, and judgment. (Moses 6:61)
“The Holy Ghost is a personage, and is in the form of a personage.” (TPJS, p. 276.) 
Note: this says Holy Ghost and not Holy Spirit, which we’ve already established is not a person.
“No man can receive the Holy Ghost without receiving revelations. The Holy Ghost is a revelator.” (TPJS, p. 328.)
Given the three quotations above, what can we glean? Let’s consider them in reverse order.

First, you cannot receive the Holy Ghost without receiving revelations. And how are revelations received? From God’s mind, through the Holy Sprit. You receive revelation when you access the mind of God. You cannot receive the Holy Ghost without accessing the mind of God.

Second, the Holy Ghost is a personage, in the form of a personage. But the Holy Spirit, or mind of God is not.

And now to address the third, let’s consider some questions.
Q: What is it that abides inside you, has the form of a personage, and makes you alive?  
A: Your spirit. 
Q: In that same verse, it calls this the Record of Heaven. How can your spirit be the Record of Heaven?  
A: When your spirit is connected to the mind of God, with an eye single to His glory (intelligence, light and truth) then it has access to the record of heaven and the truth of all things. Such a connection, in its fullness, sanctifies you and makes your spirit, or “ghost,” holy, as your whole body is filled with light. 
Q: Therefore, who, or what, is the Holy Ghost? 
A: You Are!—when you are in a state of holiness, which is a connection to the mind of God, or Holy Spirit, your spirit becomes sanctified, or your “ghost” becomes holy. The Holy Ghost is therefore best understood as a state or condition of your own spirit. Or in other words, it is your spirit in a state of holiness. Thus, you can “receive” this state or condition, and also lose it. You have the Holy Ghost when your ghost is holy. The matter couldn’t be more plain.
Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day. (3 Ne 27:20)
Such an understanding sheds a whole new light on this statement by Joseph Smith:
The “third member of the Godhead” is still in a probationary state. “The Holy Ghost is now in a state of probation which if he should perform in righteousness he may pass through the same or a similar course of things that the Son has.” (WJS, p. 245,  27 August 1843.) 
Are you still in a probationary state? Are you seeking to follow the Son? Are you seeking to become one with the Father and the Son, as they promised and Jesus prayed? Will that make you a “third member of the Godhead?”

Beyond Receiving

When you learn to remain in that state of sanctifying connection to God, such that you have continual access to His mind, then you have the “gift” of the Holy Ghost. Through this medium, it is possible to always be in tune with the mind of God.
That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day. (D&C 50:24)
So to summarize:
  • Repentance is to turn and face God.
  • If you turn and face God with an eye single to His glory (intelligence, light, truth), your whole body is filled with His light.
  • This light is received from God by means of the Holy Spirit, or the connection to God’s mind.
  • When your spirit is connected to, and in harmony with, God’s mind, it becomes holy. Or in other words, when your eye is single to the glory of God, your whole body is filled with light. Your spirit, or “ghost,” in the state or condition of holiness, is called the Holy Ghost. Receiving this connection is what constitutes receiving the Holy Ghost. Its first reception is often described as being filled with fire and the Holy Ghost, as your spirit is remodeled in God’s image and you are born again. The sanctification and filling with light is very much like fire. 
  • The continual presence of this connection with God and its resulting holiness, is called the gift of the Holy Ghost. 
Light of Christ

We should round out this discussion by considering what is called the Light of Christ.
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. (D&C 88:6-13 emphasis mine)
This light of Christ is the organizing energy or power that governs, creates, and upholds all things. It keeps the planets in orbit, and molecules connected. It is the power by which you are able to think, breathe and act. (Mosiah 2:21) All have access to it, regardless of their righteousness, desires, or consciousness of it at all. It is the most basic level of light and truth that fills the immensity of space and all things. You are connected to, and filled with it right now.

It’s useful to think of these terms as a continuum of the glory of God (remember, that means intelligence, or light and truth. )

  • The lowest level is the light of Christ. It is within everyone and everything.
  • The next level is the Holy Spirit, which is the mind of God and gives access to truth and information. 
  • The next level is the Holy Ghost, which means your spirit is in harmony and unity with God’s spirit and mind. Through the Holy Ghost, you have access to all truth. 
  • The next level is the Gift of the Holy Ghost, which means you have the ability to abide in this unity of mind with God. 
And finally, the highest level, which we have not yet covered, and will only touch on briefly, is something called the Holy Spirit of Promise—the action of which makes you a child of promise, or a member of God’s household. This requires you to have received a personal promise from God.

What it all Means

Now that we’ve studied what the scriptures and Joseph actually say about the Holy Ghost, I hope you have a very different picture than the one I had as a child. I hope you find this truth as astonishing and life-changing as I did when I first learned it.

YOU are meant to be holy. YOU are called to be one with the Father and the Son. You have the potential to be enlightened with light, truth, intelligence and glory to such a degree that you possess the glory of God within you! Even in this dark, cold, fallen place, you can walk in holiness—a god veiled in mortal flesh, connected to those higher beings who have overcome this world. You can be precisely as they are if you will exercise the faith required to turn and face them, obey their truth, and receive their light into yourself.
If the Savior gives this glory to any others, he must do it in the very way set forth in his prayer to his Father: by making them one with him, as he and the Father are one.—In so doing he would give them the glory which the Father has given him; and when his disciples are made one with the Father and the Son, as the Father and the Son are one, who cannot see the propriety of the Savior's saying, The works which I do, shall they do; and greater works than these shall they do, because I go to the Father? 
These teachings of the Savior must clearly show unto us the nature of salvation; and what he proposed unto the human family when he proposed to save them—That he proposed to make them like unto himself; and he was like the Father, the great prototype of all saved beings: And for any portion of the human family to be assimilated into their likeness is to be saved; and to be unlike them is to be destroyed: and on this hinge turns the door of salvation. (Lectures on Faith 7:15-16 emphasis mine) 
Who cannot see, then, that salvation is the effect of faith? for as we have previously observed, all the heavenly beings work by this principle; and it is because they are able so to do that they are saved: for nothing but this could save them. And this is the lesson which the God of heaven, by the mouth of all his holy prophets, has been endeavoring to teach to the world…These with a multitude of other scriptures, which might be quoted, plainly set forth the light, in which the Savior, as well as the Former Day Saints, viewed the plan of salvation: That it was a system of faith—it begins with faith, and continues by faith; and every blessing which is obtained, in relation to it, is the effect of faith, whether it pertains to this life or that which is to come.—To this all the revelations of God bear witness. If there were children of promise, they were the effects of faith: not even the Savior of the world excepted (Lectures on Faith 7:17 emphasis mine)

This series started with ask, and ye shall receive; then we continued into a discussion of God’s holiness and power stemming from His knowledge. And now, we’ve come full circle to an understanding of His invitation to you to receive access to that same holiness and knowledge. I hope His invitation to become as He is, now makes more sense.

The invitation to ask, seek and knock is not merely designed to get you answers to prayers. In the end, God’s purpose is to give you eternal life by making you as he is. It begins with the connection—with receiving the Holy Ghost so you can be one with Him, by conversing with Him through the veil, prior to entering His presence.

“The veil” may mean a variety of things. At its most basic level, it refers to your own flesh, veiling the god within you from the Gods above. Piercing that veil and forming that connection is the beginning of your redemption. It is the beginning of the return. The entire purpose of the doctrine of Christ is to allow you to receive the Holy Ghost; to become connected again, through the veil.

To me, this knowledge has made more of a difference than anything else I’ve learned in my journey thus far. I pray it will be a blessing to you as well.

Jesus answered, In the name of Father Ahman I say to you, Except you receive the ordinance of baptism to join the new dispensation, and thereby forsake your sins and receive forgiveness and an outpouring of the Spirit, you will not ascend to God’s presence in this life or the life to come. All who are devoted to the ambitions of the flesh remain imprisoned by the flesh, and those who are born anew through the ordinances, receive the Spirit of Truth, and are able to know the record of heaven by the Spirit of Truth. Do not question if what I say is true because the Spirit of Truth confers light, knowledge, and understanding of the mysteries of heaven within every soul who receives it.
—Testimony of St. John 2:2

Monday, January 15, 2018

Ask, Seek, Knock, Part 6: As a Little Child

For the time will come when they will not endure sound teaching, but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears. And they shall turn away ears from the truth and shall be turned unto fables. 
—2 Timothy 1:10 RE

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7


This series has been headed toward a conclusion for quite some time—years, in fact, at least in my own mind, and though it may not look much like it, we’re actually almost there. I had hoped to finish much sooner, but in retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t. I needed to learn some things from unusual places, pick up some golden threads woven into past events, and look backward down the trail I’ve traversed, with the sun angled just right, to at last reveal the gossamer threads filling the forest. Though I knew where this was going, I didn’t know how to get there, much less how to teach it.Thankfully, I do now.

I look forward to laying down this burden and picking up another, in the form of the unfinished Covenant Book series. This post and the next should (hopefully) get the present job done.

This series is best understood as a whole, and I’d encourage you to take another look at the previous posts in it before delving into this one and the next. In the first post, I made the following statement:

Let’s reconsider our Lord’s invitation and learn how to ask, seek and knock. This journey will not be brief, and will not begin as you might expect, but it will end, “when rightly pursued, in the most glorious discoveries, and eternal certainty.” (Lectures on Faith 2:56) This will take some “time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts” (TPJS 137) before we get where we’re going. This won’t be a light read, but there will be treasure buried here for those willing to put in the effort to uncover it.
We’re almost there.

The Problem

We’ve arrived at the point in this series where we can discuss THE fundamental defect that prevents us from receiving truth, and Christ’s sweeping solution to the problem. But rather than approaching it from a gospel perspective at first, let’s instead look at it from a human-nature perspective, or even a psychology perspective, to lay the groundwork. Once that’s done, we’ll proceed to the gospel side of things.

Warning: Psychobabble ahead. We’re going to talk about a couple of psychological terms, but I’ll do my best to give definitions that make sense. Don’t get discouraged; it comes together in the end.

Let’s begin with the phenomenon called cognitive dissonance. You’ve heard of it, haven’t you? In a nutshell, it means people get very uncomfortable when they find out they may be wrong—so they respond by defending their ideas, rather than changing them.

More specifically, cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort you experience when you confront evidence that contradicts your current behavior or beliefs. 

In other words, you and I—we like to be right, we like life to make sense, and we need to think our beliefs and actions are correct. On the surface, this all sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t we want to get things right and have correct beliefs?

Well yes. Of course.

But that’s where the problem starts. You see, we’re not from here, but we’re stuck—even trapped—in this world where truth is a hard commodity to come by, and is devalued to the point of being suppressed, concealed, and discarded—all at the behest of one who would style himself “the god of this world.”

And yet, knowledge of truth is vital to salvation. As we’ve covered earlier in this series, the very definition of repentance is seeking, gaining, and acting in accordance with truth. Or as Joseph is said to have put it:

Knowledge saves a man; and in the world of spirits no man can be exalted but by knowledge. So long as a man will not give heed to the commandments, he must abide without salvation. If a man has knowledge, he can be saved; (King Follett Sermon)
And so here’s the issue: you and I and everyone you know—we all carry an internal map of how the world works, and how to understand things, and even, at the most basic level, what is right and wrong. We get our maps handed to us by our families, traditions, education and upbringing, molded by our experiences. Your map is different than mine, and, in fact, no two maps are alike. I do what I think is right, and you do what you think is right. Everyone acts according to their own map and sees the world through their own lens.

In short, what is reality to you is not reality to me. We each have our own version of reality, and we each believe ours is the correct one, and all others are more or less wrong. You and I could witness the same events, hear the same teachings, even read the same scriptures, and interpret them VERY differently, based on our own views of what is real and true. 

Philosophers throughout the ages have wrestled with this problem of differing realities, and the question of whether there is an ultimate reality—an ultimate truth—a reality that is THE correct one against which all others must be measured. Some have argued that there is no ultimate reality at all.

Well, the reality question brings us back to cognitive dissonance—which is at the root of the problem. We’re programmed to think we’re right, and we absolutely don’t like to be wrong, particularly about anything important enough to elicit emotion. 

What’s worse, when confronted with information that demonstrates we are wrong, our discomfort causes us to immediately create a fantasy or hallucination so we can still be right. We will create elaborate, and sometimes numerous explanations to show how we are actually justified in our falsehoods. Some of these explanations may seem quite logical, and some may be completely bonkers, but the pattern remains. Even our “apologies” for being wrong frequently include justifications to make us right. 

“I’m sorry, officer, I was only speeding because there’s an emergency at work and I have to get there right away.” 

The point is that rather than change our picture of reality, we defend the picture we already have, often at all costs. This is why argument almost never changes minds. Disputes only perpetuate the problem.

The more emotion we have invested in a topic, the more likely we are to experience cognitive dissonance when we are wrong about that topic. For minor questions and decisions, being wrong is no big deal. But for major questions, life-and-death questions, salvation-and-damnation questions, or what Nibley called, “the terrible questions,” cognitive dissonance is the normal, expected and nearly universal reaction.

What’s more, cognitive dissonance travels with a companion called confirmation bias. This simply means that, as crazy as it sounds, evidence we are wrong only serves to further convince us we’re right. The more facts you throw at someone to prove theyre wrong, the more likely they are to believe theyre right. A great example is the doctor, years ago, who published an article explaining that he smoked cigarettes to benefit his health. His argument?

  • Smoking raises my heart rate—thus eliminating the need for exercise!
  • Smoking releases brain chemicals that increase memory and concentration! 
  • Smoking reduces anxiety, which is known to have ill effects on health.
  • Smoking aids in relaxation and alleviates stress (and stress is bad, right?)
  • Smoking gives me a break from my work and a chance to walk outside and be in nature!

You get the picture. No amount of evidence would convince this doctor smoking was harming him. His thesis is not rational, but that's the point. We are not, at our root, rational creatures at all.

Now here’s the kicker: this isn’t a flaw in our programming. This IS our programming. We will engage in preposterous and lengthy justifications to keep our own world view before we will change it. We must be right at all costs, you see, and will go to whatever extremes are necessary to stay right. Call it programming. Call it psychology. Call it biology if you want to. We all do it as naturally as breathing, and as predictably as the next sunrise, and yet, we don’t even realize we’re doing it.

You may be tempted, at this point, to agree that other people do this. You’ve seen it thousands of times, after all. But let me reiterate: part of the nature of this thing is that you do it so naturally, you don’t even realize you do it. Cognitive dissonance MUST be explained away to preserve your world view. You do this daily. So do I. This defines humanity, and is as deeply programmed as breathing.

God, in fact, calls it our natural state, which, unfortunately, puts us at odds with Him. “An enemy to God” is the scriptural phrase. Not good—but true. Cognitive dissonance leads to untold sin and carnage. It leads to murder. Said Christ to the Jewish leaders:

If you were really Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham. But instead you plan to kill me. And why do you plan to kill me: I am a man that has only told you the truth that I have heard from the Most High God. (Testimony of John, 6:19 RE)
Question: Why would you kill someone for telling you the truth? 
Answer: To eliminate cognitive dissonance, so you can keep believing what you want to believe, rather than having to admit you are wrong and change your beliefs to align with truth. 

An Ultimate Reality

I spoke earlier of the idea that there’s not, in fact, an ultimate reality, but just individual realities for individual people. I didn’t say I agree with this idea—and that’s because there IS in fact an ultimate reality! It is God’s reality—the way He sees things from His point of view—and it is, by definition, the absolute truth.

And truth is knowledge of things as they are and as they were and as they are to come…(D&C 33:7 RE)
This is the truth we must receive to be saved, and this is the truth we are, by our very nature, utterly unequipped to receive. And THAT, more than anything else, is the problem that damns us and keeps us damned. How deep the problem runs, we scarcely realize; how dire our circumstances, we fail to fathom. The nature of the problem blinds us to its existence, and thus we reject our Lord’s proffered solution.

Christ spoke to the Jewish leaders of these very matters, pointing out they preferred to follow their true father (Lucifer) rather than change their views:

Jesus said to them, If God were your Father, you would love me, for I am sent by and represent God. I am not speaking my own words or pursuing my own agenda, but the Father's words and agenda. Why do you fail to comprehend my words? Your refusal to hearken and submit to my teachings makes you deaf indeed. Your father is the accuser, and you share the envy and rebellion of your father. He was a rebellious destroyer from the beginning, and fought against the truth, because he prefers lies. When he spreads a lie, he advances his agenda. He is the source of deceit in this fallen world. 
And because I am the Source of truth, you are unable to believe me. Which of you can truthfully show that I have missed the mark? And if I teach the truth, why do you refuse to believe me? Everyone who follows the Most High God hearkens to God's words. Because you do not follow the Most High God, you cannot hear him. (Testimony of John 6:19-20 RE)
Is there a Solution?

Well, yes there is, but it may not be what you think it is. What’s at issue here is actually the need to transcend your own humanity, which you are humanly incapable of doing. I’ll illustrate with a story:

Edgar was quite disappointed when, in the middle of a construction project, the head fell off his only hammer. He tried to put it back on, but the handle was no longer tight, and the head fell off again. So Edgar called the hardware store, hoping someone could tell him how to fix his hammer.

“Oh sure, that’s easy to fix,” said the hardware man. “All you have to do is put the head in place, then pound a wedge into the top of the handle to tighten it up.”

“Oh good!” said a clearly relieved Edgar. “I can do that. What shall I pound it in with?”

“Well, with a hammer, of course!” said the hardware man.

“But my hammer is broken!” lamented Edgar.

Are you starting to see the problem? You can’t repair yourself. You and I—we’re computers with faulty programming, utterly incapable of reprogramming ourselves, and telling ourselves, against all evidence, that there’s nothing wrong with our programming. Because that’s what we’re programmed to do, after all. You can’t use your broken nature to fix your broken nature. It takes someone else.

Fortunately, Christ does that heavy lifting. He has power to snatch us from our fallen, broken state and make us anew. He
’s the repairman who has the knowledge and experience to repair EVERYTHING that is amiss in us. The only ingredient we can contribute to the recipe is willingness, which, happily, is all He requires of us. 

And it starts in a startlingly simple way.

A Little Child

Here’s a piece of good news: All this business about cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias only applies to adult minds. This level of brokenness is not congenital, but develops over the course of years spent in this place, drinking in the poison of this world. Little children lack both the reasoning skills and flexibility with truth that adults employ to justify themselves. Little children do not suffer from cognitive dissonance or confirmation bias. They relate to the world in a completely different way.

Hence, Christ’s repeated invitations to become as a little child. I could provide a hefty group of scriptural passages on the topic, but for now, let’s focus on this one:

For behold, he judgeth and his judgment is just. And the infant perisheth not that dieth in his infancy, but men drink damnation to their own souls except they humble themselves and become as little children and believe that salvation was and is and is to come in and through the atoning blood of Christ the Lord Omnipotent. For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be for ever and ever — but if he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man, and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child: submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father. (Mosiah 1:17 RE)
Notice the contrast between the natural MAN and the little child. The man is an adult, who has drunk damnation to his soul, and is described as both natural and an enemy of God. The child, by contrast, is associated with sainthood, and described as submissive, meek, humble, patient, and full of love. The “submit” to what the Lord “inflicts” idea has less to do with trials and punishments inflicted by God, and much more to do with truth and God’s reality. Adults will not submit to God’s truth; children will.

Little children don’t automatically believe they’re right. Rather, they know they’re wrong. They keenly feel their ignorance, and readily believe what they’re told by anyone they think knows more than them. In such a state, they are prepared to learn truth. As adults we would do well to imitate them.

To put a finer point on it, look at this chart. Normal adult psychology is expressed in the left column. The place we need to get is in the right column:

Be honest with yourself. How many of the items in the left column describe you? How possible is it to truly, unreservedly, apply the statements in the right column to yourself? What needs to be done?

This problem isn’t fixed by degrees. It is not a matter of minor course corrections, but rather wholesale surrender.

And the wise and the learned and they that are rich, who are puffed up because of their learning and their wisdom and their riches, yea, they are they whom he despiseth. And save they shall cast these things away and consider themselves fools before God and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them. (2 Nephi 6:11 RE)
Can you humble yourself as a little child, admit your profound ignorance, your desperate brokenness, your fundamental unholiness, and put your world view on the altar? Such is the only way around cognitive dissonance, and the starting point where Christ’s doctrine takes hold and transforms from mere ideas to actual power. Christ expressed this very idea explicitly as part of His doctrine:
And again I say unto you, Ye must repent and become as a little child and be baptized in my name or ye can in nowise receive these things. And again I say unto you, Ye must repent and be baptized in my name and become as a little child or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. Verily, verily I say unto you that this is my doctrine. And whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them. (3 Nephi 5:9 RE)
Properly applied—even by the weakest among us—Christ’s doctrine results in reception of the Holy Ghost. And that is the key to it all.
Now this is the commandment: Repent all ye ends of the earth and come unto me and be baptized in my name that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day. (3 Nephi 12:5 RE)
To sanctify is to make holy—in every sense of the word; to become a saint through the atonement of Christ; to be renovated, changed, renewed, reprogrammed, made a new creature. The renovation restores your programming, snatches you from your fallen nature, and gives you access to God’s mind, which is, in the end, the only source of the ultimate reality we call truth. This is the beginning of the ascent. This is the purpose of Christ’s doctrine.

Born Again

The first time you were born into this world, though you came as a little child, you soon found yourself poisoned and broken, a headless hammer, with no means of repair. But Christ offers the opportunity to be born again—returned to that state of childlike innocence and belief, but without childishness and ignorance. The Holy Ghost can, and will, put you in contact with the source of all truth, and give you all you will receive, as quickly as you will receive it.

As Christ said to Nicodemus:

All who are devoted to the ambitions of the flesh remain imprisoned by the flesh, and those who are born anew through the ordinances, receive the Spirit of Truth, and are able to know the record of heaven by the Spirit of Truth. Do not question if what I say is true because the Spirit of Truth confers light, knowledge, and understanding of the mysteries of heaven within every soul who receives it. (Testimony of St. John 2:2 RE)
On The Altar

Christ explained to the Nephites the offering he requires to make this possible:

And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood: yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings, and ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost…Behold, I have come unto the world to bring redemption unto the world, to save the world from sin. Therefore, whoso repenteth and cometh unto me as a little child, him will I receive, for of such is the kingdom of God. Behold, for such I have laid down my life and have taken it up again, therefore repent and come unto me ye ends of the earth and be saved. (3 Nephi 4:7)
The idea of a broken heart and a contrite spirit is the antithesis of our natural adulthood. You can’t have cognitive dissonance when you believe, at your core, that you are wrong, not right. There is nothing to defend, nothing to excuse, no arguments needed. What Christ is asking for is everything; or more specifically, your view of everything. When you place your very reality itself on the altar, with everything you think is true, believe is right, or feel is good, willingly giving it up—all of it—in exchange for the correct view, well, this is the sort of surrender that results in rebirth.

Of course, this can’t be faked or half hearted. It takes sincerity. It takes humility. It takes desperation. It is, in fact, best modeled by a 14-year-old Joseph Smith kneeling, anguished, in a grove on his father’s farm. As with Joseph, though not necessarily in the same way, the adversary will attempt to thwart you—but don’t let this dissuade your efforts. Like Joseph, exert all your power to call upon God.

Promised Results

If your faith is real and your surrender complete, the light will come, or as Joseph described it, the pillar of fire—perhaps not around you, but within you, as you are baptized with fire and the Holy Ghost—born anew in Christ, with a new understanding of reality and a new view of everything. I’m not stating this as theory. 
I’m a witness of the truth of Christ’s promises, and I know what I’m talking about. I’ll add my voice to Alma’s:
And the Lord said unto me, Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women — all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people — must be born again, yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters. And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. I say unto you, Unless this be the case, they must be cast off. And this I know because I was like to be cast off. Nevertheless, after wading through much tribulation, repenting nigh unto death, the Lord in mercy hath seen fit to snatch me out of an everlasting burning; and I am born of God. (Mosiah 11:28 RE)
Our Lord’s promises are sure. His offer is open to all, and available to any who will meet its terms. It is a personal offer to you. If anything in this post spoke to your soul, caused you discomfort, or invoked your need to defend your current views, I invite you to consider why that is, and what you can do about it. 

And finally, with this groundwork in place, we can discuss, in part 7, the Holy Ghost.

At the same time the disciples came unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the middle of them, and said, Truly I say unto you, except you be converted and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  

Matthew 9:10 RE