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Monday, June 17, 2013

Anti-

What really is an anti-Christ?  Are the Anti-Nephi-Lehies opposed to Nephi and Lehi?  And why is anti-Mormon material so destructive?

The Greek root for "anti" can mean not only "opposite of" and "against," but also "in place of."  A conglomeration of the two may suggest the definition, "opposed to, by being similar".  The Greek doesn't necessarily prove this definition, so instead of inductive, I'll use deductive reasoning to try to prove it.

Two quick examples:  First, anti-venom is created with actual venom from the poisonous animal.  That venom is injected into a big animal like a horse, which then creates antibodies for us to extract and use. Thus, the anti-venom is very similar to the actual venom, but has an opposite effect on the body.  Second, the star "Antares" is a red supergiant that got its name from the ancient Greeks.  The name means "anti-Ares" (Ares was the God of war, synonymous with the Roman Mars), so called because of it's very similar appearance to the planet Mars.

Let's apply this definition to "Antichrist.  I'd love to delve deeper into the ways the three antichrists in the Book of Mormon are opposed to Christ by being similar to Him (Sherem was a great leader who preached the law of Moses and sincerely tried to keep the people in the right way of God [Jacob 7:7].  Nehor taught that the Lord had created all men, had redeemed them, and that they should have eternal life [Alma 1:4].  Korihor's doctrine included empirical knowledge acquisition, and prospering according to your 'genius' [Alma 30: 15,17].  Much of their ideology was true, which made them enticing and popular, but they twisted key constituents that turned them against Christ), but that's for another day.


The ultimate Antichrist is Lucifer himself.  But even he doesn't approach us all with radical ideas that are diametrically opposed to Christ's doctrine.  If he did, he'd probably lose a lot of followers.  In the premortal councils, the "shining one" and "bringer of light" (makes me think of Abraham's metaphor for the noble and great ones as stars in the firmament) preached salvation for all, a guaranteed return to Heavenly Father.  The other option seemed to be the loss of billions of us, members of our family.  The ideas Lucifer taught sounded great, but we know of course that he always perverts pivotal points of the plan (the loss of agency renders us damned in the progression toward godhood).

One striking example of how Satan is opposite to Christ by being similar to Him is found in the Garden of Eden.  One may ask, why did Satan assume the image of a snake?  (I'm not going into the debate of whether he literally transformed into the configuration of a snake, took possession of an already created snake, or if there is some "form/sign of the snake" like the Holy Ghost's "form/sign of the dove." If you want a more informed opinion, read Genesis 3, Moses 4, and go to the temple...)

Many of us associate the snake with subtlety, craftiness, and deception.  Originally, however, I think the snake was a symbol for the Savior, a symbol of healing and renewing.  The snake's shedding of skin, for instance, is a great image of death & resurrection, leaving behind old ways, and renewed life.  Perhaps the most referenced event from the Old Testament in the Book of Mormon, Moses' brazen serpent is a powerful example of how the snake is a symbol of the Savior: "if we look, we shall live" (1 Ne. 17:41, 2 Ne. 25:20, Alma 33:19-22, Alma 37:46, Hel. 8:14-15).  Even John makes the connection for the symbol, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:14-15).  Some scholars think the serpent was outstretched perpendicular to the pole Moses lifted it on (in motion, as Nephi says, as a "fiery flying serpent"), and made a cross-like appearance.

The "brass serpent" atop Mt. Nebo.

If Satan wanted to deceive Eve, he probably wouldn't want to appear as a seven-headed, ten-horned beast. Instead, he chose an animal that Eve may have recognized, one she could have been taught about in the premortal realms as a symbol for the Savior.  How much more wretched and evil Satan becomes when we think of him this way - taking that which is sacred and treading it under his feet (he's a spirit so he doesn't have literal feet, but you get the point).  It is interesting to note that the snake has emerged as a dual symbol for good and evil, poison and medicine (Asclepius' staff, now the symbol for modern medicine), death and life, and has been an object of veneration by people all over the world.

So, what about the Anti-Nephi-Lehies?  One explanation is that the second little hyphen was used incorrectly.  The original manuscripts of the Book of Mormon had very little punctuation, and while John H. Gilbert did his best to punctuate as he thought the author intended, it may not have been as critically attended to as the translation itself.  So, one postulation is that it should be rendered "Anti-Nephi Lehies," as in "not of Nephi, but of Lehi."  They were Lamanites politically and culturally, but were still descendants of Lehi, and now recognized that lineage - and more importantly returned to his religion and faith.  These people of Lehi were opposite of Nephi in lineage (they were descendants of Laman), but similar to him in faith.  Even if the hyphen should be attached, we could say that they were opposite of Nephi and Lehi in culture and politics, but similar to them in religion and faith.

Mounds in Ohio built by people dated to Book of Mormon times.

A quick reflection on anti-Mormon material.  I was walking around Temple Square some time ago and was given a lovely newsletter from a picketer outside the gates (after desperately trying to get the attention of anyone I could as a missionary for two years, I've become a little more sympathetic to any sort of activist).  As I read it, I was surprised to see that its contents were almost entirely what I believed.  Most of the "anti-Mormon" material was true, but was presented as utterly preposterous and mixed with distortions.

The father of lies is deceptive.  He perverts and contorts all that is good into hollow deceit.  That's what makes his temptations so enticing.  They look so much like the truth, but leave us with feelings of guilt, depression, and loneliness.  They are similar to what's right in appearance, but opposite in effect.  As we cultivate our conception of God, we will develop the perception to see and overcome the devil's deception.  

Monday, June 10, 2013

A Window in the Ark

In Genesis 6:14, the Lord instructs Noah, "Make thee an ark of gopher wood."  What in the world is gopher wood?  I don't know...  But the Greek Septuagint translates the phrase into xylon tetragonon ("squared timber"), and the Latin Vulgate renders lignis levigatis ("smoothed, possibly planed, wood").  As to the type of wood, suggestions include - among others - fir, cedar, and acacia.  Interesting that all three of these wood types were included in the building of temples (Ex. 26:15 - shittim wood for the tabernacle [probably acacia], 1 Kings 9:11 - Hiram of Tyre furnished Solomon with cedar and fir trees).  

Woods outside Jerusalem.

This leads to the idea of the ark itself being a type of temple.  The ark joins a unique group of structures that are specifically designed by the Lord Himself.  The dimensions of the ark are very similar to the dimensions of Moses' tabernacle and Solomon's temple (Gen. 6:15, 1 Kings 7:2, Ex. 27:18).  The ark was divided into three decks, similar to the three sections of the tabernacle and temple (Gen. 6:16, Ex. 26-27).  The word for Noah's ark in the Septuagint is kibotos, the same word used for the ark of the covenant in the temple.  Those who followed the prophet's teachings were given access to the ark/temple, and were able to be saved from the sinfulness of the world around them.  Listening and acting on our prophet's words will both figuratively and literally save our spiritual and physical lives.

Falling into the same temptation as Uzzah...

Did the ark have windows?

Genesis 6:16 reads, "A window shalt thou make to the ark," but the word for window is translated from the Hebrew tsohar.  "Some rabbis believed it was a precious stone that shone in the ark" (Gen. 6:16 footnote a).  Sound like anyone else you know who was in the business of building ships to save his family and was looking for light?

The Lord's answers to the brother of Jared's challenges fascinate me.  The Lord had given him most of the instruction he needed (just as we generally understand what we are to be doing in life).  However, the brother of Jared had difficulties just like us:  "... the brother of Jared cried unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, I have performed the work which thou hast commanded me, and I have made the barges according as thou hast directed me"  (The Lord is very specific in the construction of the structures that save our souls).  He continues, "And behold, O Lord, in them there is no light; whither shall we steer? And also we shall perish, for in them we cannot breathe ... therefore we shall perish" (Ether 2:18-19).  The Lord quickly gives the answer to one of the problems - make a hole in the top and bottom of the barge, and you'll be able to breathe.  But He does not give the answer to his other petition.  He doesn't say anything.  So the brother of Jared makes the holes and returns to ask again about the light issue.  The Lord then turns the question back on him, "What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels?" (Ether 2:23).

That's a good question.  The Mediterranean is huge, not to mention the ocean...

Some may say that the brother of Jared came up with the "glowing stones" idea by personal revelation from God.  However, we don't explicitly see any sort of revelation (in fact a void of such next to the revelation about the holes).  Others may argue that he came up with it himself.  That may be true, but another possibility is that the Lord had already given the answer to another prophet, and he expected the brother of Jared to either ask the prophet or search the scriptures.  Noah and the brother of Jared very well could have been contemporaries.  Scholars date Noah's flood to around 2350 BC.  If Noah was 600 when it began and lived to be 950, his lifespan may have been around 2950 BC to 2000 BC.  The time frame for the beginning of the book of Ether is around 2100 BC.

Oftentimes the answers we seek may have already been given by the Lord to His prophets.  Personal revelation is absolutely necessary for our spiritual survival (the hole revelation allowed Jared's people to breathe), but the prophet receives revelations that are also necessary for us (Noah's "glowing stone" may have spurred the idea for the brother of Jared's sixteen "glowing stones").  Following the prophet is absolutely essential for our exaltation.  President Ezra Taft Benson said that "our salvation depends on [it]" (14 Fundamentals in Following the Prophet, Ensign, June 1981).  May we follow the prophet's revelations and instructions into the safety of the temple and onward to eternal life.


Monday, June 3, 2013

Perfection


I think many of us fall victim to the fallacious idea that when we arrive at judgment day, we will stand before God as imperfect beings, full of sins that need to be cleansed, and then magically transformed into a perfected god-like individual.  From what I understand, in order to retain the presence of the Father (a wondrous and terrible gift that all receive, despite levels of righteousness [Hel. 14:16-18]), we must come as already perfected beings who have overcome all things through the Atonement of Christ.

Heavenly Father's laws are immutable, "But behold, I say unto you, the kingdom of God is not filthy, and there cannot any unclean thing enter into the kingdom of God" (Nephi's use of chiasmus is ubiquitous and shows emphasis on particular principles of import) (1 Ne. 15:34).  In order to enjoy eternal life, the kind of life that God enjoys, we must be obedient to that law of heaven.  In other words, God's plan demands perfection and nothing short of it.

Of course, we are aware that "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23), and Heavenly Father is aware of that too.  He is aware that our sinning damns us, so in His infinite knowledge He provided a Savior, whose Atonement has the unfathomable power to cleanse and perfect.  We are given a probationary period (one on probation does not evade the consequences of his actions but merely has them postponed, unless he is compliant with the conditions of the probation).  The Father, in great mercy, has given us time to become perfect.

The Savior commanded us to "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5:48).  The Greek word for perfect, telios, means complete, finished, or fully developed.  I find it interesting that He doesn't include Himself in this commandment here, but does when He gives it to the Nephites (3 Ne. 12:48).  Even the Savior, Himself, was not magically transformed overnight into a perfected, fully developed God.  Rather, John says "He received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness" (D&C 93:13).  So must our journey be.

Mount of Beatitudes, the setting for Christ's "Sermon on the Mount"

Some give a monetary metaphor for Christ's Atonement (e.g. "You give all you have and the Savior will make up the difference.").  While I think this is great for a basic understanding, I think it ultimately falls short.  Jesus Christ does not merely make up the difference.  Rather, He is the difference.  He doesn't just fill in what we can't do, but actually empowers us to have the capabilities to do it ourselves.  Elder Bednar describes these two powerful aspects of the Atonement: the redeeming power, and the enabling power: "I suspect that many Church members are much more familiar with the nature of the redeeming and cleansing power of the Atonement than they are with the strengthening and enabling power... The gospel of the Savior is not simply about avoiding bad in our lives; it also is essentially about doing and becoming good.  And the Atonement provides help for us to overcome and avoid bad and to do and become good.  Help from the Savior is available for the entire journey of mortality - from bad to good to better and to change our very nature."

I think this is so critical.  God does not want us to be imperfect creatures who have simply been washed clean.  He wants our natures to change, for us to become, truly become, what we were designed to become:  "priests and kings, [priestesses and queens] who have received of his fulness, and of his glory... Wherefore, as it is written, they are gods, even the sons [and daughters] of God" (D&C 76:56,58).

This may seem exhausting and even impossible.  I have a hard time studying the scriptures consistently or waking up early and this is what is expected of me?!  However, I know, like Nephi that "the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men [including perfection], save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them" (1 Ne. 3:7).  Did we get that?  "That they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them."  We can achieve perfection and are ultimately responsible to do so.  We are utterly unable to do this on our own, but Christ has prepared a way! We can access the infinite redeeming and enabling powers of the Atonement through faithfulness to the covenants that bind us to Him.  We can do it!  The Savior wouldn't have given us the commandment if He didn't think we could.

The "City of David," the Jerusalem of Nephi and Lehi's time.

"Man's chief concern in life should not be the acquiring of gold or fame, or of material possessions.  It should not be the development of physical prowess, nor of intellectual strength, but his aim, the highest in life, should be the development of a Christlike character." -David O. Mckay

"The greatest and most important labor we have to perform is to cultivate ourselves." - Brigham Young

"Your greatest work, your most important creation, will be you." - Robert Jensen

God has given us time.  We are not expected to become perfect in this mortal existence, although the scriptures do give examples of individuals who achieved some sort of perfection while here: "Noah was a just man, and perfect in his generation; and he walked with God, as did also his three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth" (Moses 8:27, Gen. 6:9); "There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil" (Job 1:1); "He (Seth) was a perfect man" (D&C 107:43).

Perfection is a process, but one that we can and must work on.  "Ye are not able to abide the presence of God now, neither the ministering of angels; wherefore, continue in patience until ye are perfected" (D&C 67:13).  As we continue living our lives faithfully, we will come to realize that perfection is possible through Jesus Christ.  The Atonement is powerful enough to perfect us.

The ultimate realization of our perfection will be in our glorious resurrection.  Speaking of those who overcame all things by faith, the Lord said, "These are they who are just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, who wrought out this perfect atonement through the shedding of his own blood.  These are they whose bodies are celestial, whose glory is that of the sun, even the glory of God, the highest of all" (D&C 76:69-70).  It is after this resurrection, after perfection, that we can be brought before our Heavenly Father, and enjoy His presence for eternity.  We can completely fulfill His demands for justice because of the mercy of His Son.  We can and must achieve perfection.