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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Our Three Fathers

We have three different fathers and are to develop & cultivate our relationship with each of them if we are to realize a celestial life with them.

Earthly Father

I was impressed, recently, with the way Joseph Smith recounts the fourth appearance of Moroni.  The angelic messenger from God "commanded me to go to my father and tell him of the vision and commandments which I had received" (JSH 1:49).  I think it interesting that Joseph hadn't told anyone about the previous night's experiences.  Joseph wasn't forbidden from talking about his experience, but still simply resumed his daily labors and worked right alongside his dad without mentioning a word.  This isn't unique to Joseph - and gives us insight into his personality as a youth - for after the glorious First Vision, his response to his mother's inquiries was "Never mind, all is well - I am well enough off."  These were definitely two of the most incredible experiences in the prophet's life, and he didn't share them with anyone.  At first.

I can relate to Joseph in this regard.  As a youth, I rarely discussed deep emotional or spiritual experiences with my parents.  Parents, in their brilliance, often know when something is troubling their children, and I often responded in effect, "Never mind, all is well - I am well enough off."  I may have thought I was independent enough to handle things on my own, or that if I talked about problems or questions I had, it would show imperfections in myself - and you can't let your parents think you're imperfect.

Whether Joseph had similar reasons or not, he had to be given a commandment by a heavenly messenger to open up to his dad and talk about what was going on in his life.  In a recent Priesthood Session, Elder Ballard gave similar instruction to trust your father, take an interest in his life, and ask him for advice.  In the past few years I have opened up so much more to both my father and mother, and I realized they actually know stuff!  They used to be young once (go figure), and they survived it.  They have a successful marriage and are happy.  They are righteous role models and always seem to know what to say or do to lift and inspire me.  All I had to do was ask.

Heavenly Father

Unique to all other creations, humans are offspring of their Creator, not simply nifty handiwork.  Our mouthpiece from God, Thomas Spencer (solid name) Monson declared, "I leave with you my witness [one who can give a firsthand account of something seen, heard, or experienced] and my testimony that God our Eternal Father lives and loves us. He is indeed our Father, and He is personal and real. May we realize and understand how close to us He is willing to come, how far He is willing to go to help us, how much He loves us, and how much He does and is willing to do for us. May He bless you. May His promised peace be with you now and always" (Until We Meet Again, Conference Report, Oct. 2011).

When we think of the Akedah, we are rightly impressed with Isaac's qualities as a type of Christ. However, the account focuses mostly on Abraham, and if Isaac is a type of Christ, Abraham must be a type of Heavenly Father.

It must have deeply grieved Abraham, the quintessential father figure, to watch his son Ishmael leave him.  In an effort to accomplish God's promise of endless seed on her own, Sarai offered Hagar to Abram.  She bore a son named Ishmael, who was surely the one in whom the promises would be fulfilled.  For 14 years Abraham groomed and nurtured Ishmael as his heir.  He must have taught him about the incredible blessings, priesthood, and promises he had received from the Lord, and probably told him that he would be the one who would help bring these to fruition for the world.  He scoffed the idea that Sarah could bear a child and prayed "unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee!" (Gen. 17:18).  When Ishmael was caught doing something wrong, he was condemned to be cast out of the presence of his father.  This destined son was to be torn from his family, not to return for a long time (the next recorded time they were together is when Ishmael helped to bury his father Abraham - Gen 25:9).  Abraham woke up early that next morning, and carefully prepared Ishmael and his mother with bread and water to help them during the perilous journey (Gen. 21:14).  Over and over through this process, the Lord assures Abraham that his promised blessing would be fulfilled through Isaac, but in the very next chapter, Abraham is commanded to sacrifice this chosen son.  I wonder what doubts, confusion, and heartache Abraham must have been experiencing.

Tel Beersheva and the Negev - Abraham's stomping grounds.

The analogy continues, but let's compare what we have so far.  Our Heavenly Father carefully prepared us for our journey here in mortality:  He gave us the Gospel of Christ - the Bread of Life and Living Waters. It must have been a saddening experience to watch us leave, knowing that many of us wouldn't return permanently to Him, even those with potential to become His heirs.  Ultimately, He had to sacrifice His Only Begotten in order to open the possibility of His children returning (and unlike Abraham, He actually had to go through with it).  The love our Heavenly Father has for us must be unfathomable.

We pray directly to Him.  We need no intermediary for that (although we do approach Him in the name of His perfect Son, for if we were to approach in our own name, our prayers would be for naught).  Of all the interactions Heavenly Father leaves to Jesus Christ, one He reserved for Himself was prayer.  We must cultivate our relationship with God through this medium.  "As soon as we learn the true relationship in which we stand toward God (namely, God is our Father, and we are his children), then at once prayer becomes natural and instinctive on our part" (BD - Prayer).  We can have a great relationship with our loving Father in Heaven.  He wants us to come to Him.  All we have to do is ask.

Jesus Christ, the Father

The scriptures are replete with examples of how Jesus Christ is the Father of those who covenant with Him.  King Benjamin's people promised to be obedient to all of God's commands and were told, "Because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you."  He continues, "Ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters" (Mosiah 5:7).

A child inherits characteristics from his father.  Among other things, I inherited my dazzling good looks and strong mind from my earthly father, and a powerful spirit with godhood potential from my Heavenly Father.  I received physical life from my dad and spiritual life from God.  In the process of becoming children of Christ, we inherit characteristics of faith, forgiveness, and freedom.  We have died spiritually once, but through Christ, we are reborn spiritually.  We do not become His children unconditionally, however.  This truth is vividly taught by the Savior to the murderous Pharisees when He said, "Ye do the deeds of your father... Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do" (John 8:41,44).

For Christ to be our Father, we must choose it.  We must do His works and covenant with Him.  "All mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people [so pretty much everyone], 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."  We have all been born of Heavenly Father and of our earthly fathers, so who is the Lord telling us to be born of here?  Alma makes it clear that this is Christ: to be born again, we must be baptized and "have faith on the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world," and gives us a spiritual newness of life (Alma 7:14).

Children often have a father and a mother.  We know our earthly mother, and understand the sacred truth of our Heavenly Mother, but who is the mother of our spiritual rebirth, the metaphorical bride of the Savior for this process?  Paul taught, "For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church... Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it" (Eph. 5:23,25).  Christ gives us renewed spiritual life, and the church (our spiritual mother) nurtures, directs, and instructs us throughout this new life.  Discussing the time before the Millennium, John teaches that "the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready" (Rev. 19:7).  The church will be ready when Christ comes, and the question remains, will I be a part of it?  Will I be a child of Christ, a member of the church family that's ready to receive Him?  We can experience the rich blessings of being the sons and daughters of "the Father of heaven and earth" (Mos. 3:8).  We have to ask and we must do our all.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Purpose of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon

Why do Book of Mormon prophets quote 475 verses from Isaiah, a full 1/3 of his book?  Yes, the Savior did say that "great are the words of Isaiah" (3 Ne. 23:1), but Nephi, Jacob, Abinadi, and Alma had already been using this prophet's words more than any other.  Yes, Isaiah was a relatively recent prophet for the early Nephites (about 100-150 years before Lehi), but Nephi reports "many prophets, prophesying unto the people" (1 Ne. 1:4) during his own time - Jeremiah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Ezekiel, and Obadiah to name a few.  Yes, Isaiah points us to the Savior - no doubt about that - but how and why?  While scholars and students give many reasons for the presence of Isaiah, another reason has given me new insight into the inward struggles of the Nephites.

Nations throughout history - apologies for the anachronistic wording - often draw strength from a cultural narrative that defines their identity.  Rome battled their way through the Punic wars to greatness and preserved the Greek myths, both of which shaped the way they saw the world and their place in it.  The Jews identified themselves with the Exodus - God had promised them the southern Levant, and despite times of captivity to Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, or Persia, He always brought them back to their homeland.  The concept of a "territorial" god was rampant throughout this time - gods were intimately tied to the land, not necessarily over the whole earth or over a certain people.  If you lived in Babylon, you would worship Marduk, because he was the one who had power there.  If you lived in the land of Israel, you worshiped Jehovah (and many Assyrians who moved in during the 8th century BC did just that - we know them as the Samaritans, but that's for another day).

Lehi and Nephi, as Jews following the Law of Moses, grew up listening to the accounts of their great father leading the children of Israel back to their promised land.  They saw God as One who would allow scattering, but eventually bring them back home safely.  Their story turned out to be much different.  The Nephites never got to go back home to their home land and "home" god, and the prophets leading them understood that.

The Nephites have always asked, "Why were we scattered?"  Laman and Lemuel start the questioning, but it seems that every group of people in the Americas were worried that they had been cast off from God.  You can tell the issues the people are facing by the words the prophets are speaking to them (prophets speak to the needs of the people).  So when Moroni writes that the purpose of the Book of Mormon is to "show that they are not cast off forever" (Title Page), it must have been a pressing concern.  Nephi recognizes that they are a "branch who have been broken off" (1 Ne. 19:24).  And Jacob exhorts his people to "not hang down [their] heads, for we are not cast off" (2 Ne. 10:20).

The Nephites leave Jerusalem, never to return, and settle in the promised land of the Americas.  It isn't long before the factions divide and the Lamanites push them out of their lands and up into the Land of Nephi.  After a time, the Lamanites invade the Land of Nephi, and the Nephites gather to Zarahemla.  From Zarahemla, they are pushed to Bountiful, and eventually out of Bountiful into the land northward.  Each time the Nephites are never brought back to their "home" land.  They are constantly scattered throughout the entirety of the Book of Mormon.

So why is Isaiah in the Book of Mormon?  One reason is that Isaiah was an Old Testament prophet that had a unique ability to talk about Jesus Christ as a Redeemer for all His people.  Of the 16 times that the word "Redeemer" is used in the O.T., 13 of them are by Isaiah.  "Redeem" means to buy back, or to restore.  Isaiah's words have great power in convincing the reader that despite where you are, how old you are, where you've been, how smart you are, what you've done, when you live, or whatever your situation, Jesus Christ - an all-powerful God - cares deeply about you.  He has purchased you with His blood and has the power to restore you to your true Home Land - the Celestial Kingdom.

Isaiah 52 is a prime example of this.  It is the most quoted chapter in the Book of Mormon, and used by Nephi, Jacob, Abinadi, Alma, Moroni, and even the Savior Himself.  I'd love to touch on them all, but I hope the Savior's use of Isaiah will be sufficient for now.  In 3 Nephi 20, the Savior adapts Isaiah's language to emphasize the covenant relationship with the Father.  Isaiah doesn't use the word "father," but Jesus uses it often to show that God will not forget His people, just as a father would not forget his child.  Jesus excludes verses 4 and 5 of Isaiah 52, possibly because they include the idea of the people's experience as a "sojourn," suggesting a temporary absence from home.  The Nephite scattering isn't temporary, so Jesus doesn't include it.  After teaching about the scattering of Israel, He specifically reminds them that "the Father hath commanded me that I should give unto you this land, for your inheritance" (3 Ne. 20:14, emphasis added).  "Sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem; for the Father hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem.  The Father hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of the Father" (3. Ne. 20:34-35, emphasis added).  While the Nephites won't return to their initial homeland, their scattering helps fulfill the Abrahamic Covenant: "In thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed" (3 Ne. 20:27).  Jesus exhorts that all should awake, put on their strength, and be clean (3 Ne. 30:36,41).  Most of this is quoted directly from Isaiah 52.

This is much longer than I thought I'd write, and the next posts will be shorter, I promise...  There is a theme of scattering in the Book of Mormon.  The Nephites were frightened of being cut off, and that terror reaches to our present day.  We may feel abandoned or distanced from God.  We may feel we cannot achieve what we know we should.  We may be scared of the future and think "If only I could go back to _______, where I was comfortable and happy."  We may feel our lives are scattered and we don't know the direction we should go.

Isaiah is used so much in the Book of Mormon to make sure we understand that there is a Redeemer who will succor us no matter where we are.  "They may forget, yet will I not forget thee, O house of Israel.  Behold I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands" (1 Ne. 21:15-16 & Is. 49:15-16).  "Awake, and arise from the dust, O Jerusalem; yea, and put on thy beautiful garments, O daughter of Zion; and strengthen thy stakes and enlarge thy borders forever, that thou mayest no more be confounded, that the covenants of the Eternal Father which he hath made unto thee, O house of Israel, may be fulfilled" (Mor. 10:31 & Is. 52:1-2, 54:2,4).  "For the Lord shall comfort Zion.... The redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy and holiness shall be upon their heads; and they shall obtain gladness and joy; sorrow and mourning shall flee away" (2 Ne. 8:3,11 & Is. 51:3,11).

I hope as you come to the glorious Isaiah chapters in the Book of Mormon, you'll be touched by all that God is doing to comfort us and bring us back to Him.  Isaiah is filled with it.  He is doing everything He can, and expects us to wake up, stand up, recognize our worth, and be what we are meant to be - children of God.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Scriptural Insights

Dews From Heaven

The purpose of this blog is to channel any glimpses I get of the divine world into a spiritual record:  my metaphorical small plates, if you will.  These are opinions I have formed from studies, classes, and experiences, and they don't necessarily represent conclusive doctrine.  I hope they are of some use to you in endeavoring to comprehend and master the enlightenment of God.

For His glory is intelligence (D&C 93:36): dropping as the rain and distilling as the dew when we give ear to His words (Deut. 32:2).