Sunday, January 26, 2014

Old Testament Lesson 4: Because of My Transgression My Eyes are Opened

Michelangelo's "God and Adam"
A serious study of the fall of Adam and Eve must include the question of why it was even necessary in the first place.
I decided this week to frame the doctrine of the fall of Adam and Eve in terms of another doctrine that seems completely opposite to where the fall appears to take us - Perfection. In doing so I hope to answer the question of why the fall was necessary, in a way that might be new to you and may enable you to ponder this great event in more detail.

The seedling
In Genesis 1:26-27 we learn that Adam and Eve were created in God's image, after his likeness. Do you notice the similarity in language between the other creations created "...yielding seed...after his kind" and Adam and Eve that are created in God's image, after God's likeness. Of course, this is not just a species commonality but the very likeness and image of gods, it's far more personal but nevertheless the point is obvious - we are of the same seed as God! As we explore further we discover that within us we have two specific ingredients that are God's and that make us His children and He our Father:
  • Our Spirit
  • Light 
Our Spirit: We each were born spiritually of heavenly parents - a heavenly mother and a heavenly father, inheriting from our heavenly parents divine spiritual qualities (for more scriptural evidences of this feel free to follow this link). Some may have received heavenly father's and heavenly mother's ability to discern and understand, or their ability to care and be compassionate, or maybe to forgive and love. 
Light: We also each received a portion of his light when we were born to our surrogate mortal parents. (cf Moroni 7:16-18). This light is in our very DNA. Like any seed, for us to grow to our full potential we must let that light nourish us and we must yearn and strive towards more light if we are to reach our full potential as a divine seedling. It is this portion of light within us that actually guides us towards the greater light; and it is this very journey that enables our growth. (For those wishing to go deeper into a study of spirits and light, read Doctrine and Covenants 93:29-38).

With these two divine ingredients we are created like God and have the potential to be as God.

Does this make us Gods? No. But it does make us Gods-in-embryo. Do we have the potential to grow and develop or evolve into Gods eventually, at some point in the eternities? Absolutely. For people caught up in the depths of darkness in this world that is a powerful and enabling doctrine. If you take nothing more from this lesson, take this: every person, every one, has that potential. Whether it is you sat on the internet right now in your warm house and eating a snack, or someone else sat on a hot barren plain in Africa with no food, or another person lying cold in the early morning hours behind a dumpster with an empty bottle of alcohol - every single one of us is a God-in-embryo.
When I ponder that I feel so many emotions: immense gratitude, self-respect, determination, sorrow, forgiveness, frustration and I start to feel just a little how Alma felt as he wished he were an angel, that he might declare these tidings more clearly to all mankind at once. This knowledge can be life-changing.
So this is the seedling. Us, mankind. We are the seedling.
Adam, Eve, and perfection
Now do you remember how at the beginning I said that I would like to discuss the fall within the context of perfection. Well, to do so we must first clarify and distinguish the two different aspects or definitions of perfection:
  1. without sin or blemish
  2. complete, whole
As we study the fall, differentiating between these two aspects of perfection will be vital in understanding why the fall was necessary. Ask yourself these questions:                Were Adam and Eve perfect when they were created and placed in the garden of Eden? To answer this question you may need to answer the following two questions.
In what ways were Adam and Eve like God, immediately after their creation?
They were spirit, intelligences, given a body in a paradisaical state, with both the likeness and image (form and shape) of God, without blemish or sin.
In what ways were Adam and Eve NOT like God, immediately after their creation? 
They had no knowledge of good and evil (that is they did not understand the difference for themselves), they had no posterity, and their body was of a substance or matter that was not resurrected immortal material but merely eternal. They were not yet complete as to their eternal purpose.

In short, they were LIKE God but not yet AS God. 

Now read the Saviour's admonition as he taught what has become known as the sermon on the mount:
"Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect" Matthew 5:48
Is there any doubt what is intended for us in the long run? Heavenly Father intends for us to ultimately be without blemish or sin AND to reach our fullest potential - that is perfection.
Thus He does not intend for us to be LIKE him but rather he intends for us to be AS him.

Eden, the philosopher, the fall
It seems clear that Adam and Eve, though perfect creations and being without sin and without blemish, were not complete in regards to their ultimate purpose. God knew this and set up a classroom in which Adam and Eve could learn this.

Read Moses 3:8-9
What kind of classroom is the Lord setting up, what do you think the focal point of the classroom will be?  

God also issued some basic class rules:
"be fruitful and multiply" Moses 2:28
"Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it, nevertheless, thou mayest choose for thyself, for it is given unto thee; but, remember that I forbid it, for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." Moses 3:16-17
Notice that Eve elaborates further on this commandment, telling Satan that God had told them that  "Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall you touch it, lest ye die." Moses 4:9
What do you think would have happened if Eve just touched it and then put it back?
Why did the Lord forbid them from even touching the fruit?
How can we relate this to our lives?

There is an interesting insight with the second commandment. God starts by pointing out all of the other trees in the garden which, he tells Adam, they may "freely eat". The key word is "freely" or in other words without consequences.
The same cannot be said of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Adam may choose for himself to eat of it but there will be consequences and God has forbidden it.
Joseph Fielding Smith once put this conversation between God and Adam into his own words. He said, "The Lord said to Adam, here is the tree of knowledge of good and evil. If you want to stay here then you cannot eat of that fruit. If you want to stay here then I forbid you to eat it. But you may act for yourself and you may eat of it if you want to. And if you eat it you will die."
So with that setting, the Lord God then allows the guest speaker into the classroom. 

Now notice how Satan tempts Eve in Genesis 3:1-5. He tempts her by telling her a lie and a truth to confuse and muddy her determination. He lies by telling her that "ye shall not surely die".
Well, actually she will.
As things stood in the garden, Adam and Eve could go on eternally in their current state not tasting death. God had clearly stated that if they eat the fruit of that tree it would introduce them to death. So telling Eve that if she eats the fruit she wont die, is a big fat lie from the father of all lies (about as big and fat as lies come). But then he emphasizes the truth of what will happen "your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be AS gods, knowing good and evil."
This clearly indicates that even Satan knew there was potential for mankind not just to be LIKE God but to become AS God. How has this doctrine been lost to the world?
But teaching Eve the doctrine of her potential, backfired on Satan. It's an astonishing lack of cautiousness from Satan that seems to imply that he really thought he had a good chance of destroying God's plan right there at that moment in the garden of Eden. Moses tells us as much when he comments that at that point, Satan "knew not the mind of God" (Moses 4:6).

Genesis 3:6 How did Eve reason herself into taking the fruit?
  • it was edible 
  • it was desirable
  • it would make her wise. 
Without a distinction between good and bad she can only use the facts in front of her. The fruit was edible, it was pleasant (as God had made it), and now Satan had also informed her that it would take her one step closer to becoming as God. Is it any surprise she partook of the fruit?

Likewise, we can only presume that Adam chose to eat the fruit for the same reasons...except we have one other fascinating clue to his reasoning and for all you romantics out there this is as good as it gets!
When explaining to God why he ate the fruit, Adam says something often missed even by Latter-Day Saints. Genesis barely hints at it, but in the translation of Genesis that we call the Book of Moses we read this:
"And the man said: The woman thou gavest me, and commandest that she should remain with me, she gave me of the fruit of the tree and I did eat" Moses 4:18
Clearly in Adam's mind the higher priority was staying with Eve. Seeing she had eaten and would "die", he chose to die with her rather than remain in the garden alone. Maybe he knew death would not be instantaneous and that this was also a way for them to be fulfill the other commandment to be fruitful and multiply, but clearly in his mind his priority was to stay with Eve. What a beautiful example of pure love from our first parents.

Be clear. No sin was involved here. Any notion of "original" sin or any sin is blatantly false and does not do justice to the great honour we should hold both Adam and Eve in.
Not having a knowledge of good and evil they could only obey or disobey, as a little child obeys or disobeys the command to leave the cookies alone. Sure it was wrong and it had consequences but it was not sin.
James E. Talmage said "Here let me say that therein consisted the fall -- the eating of things unfit, the taking into the body of the things that made of that body a thing of earth: and I take this occasion to raise my voice against the false interpretation of scripture, which has been adopted by certain people, and is current in their minds, and is referred to in a hushed and half-secret way, that the fall of man consisted in some offense against the laws of chastity and virtue. Such a doctrine is an abomination. What right have we to turn the scriptures from their proper sense and meaning? What right have we to declare that God meant not what He said? The fall was a natural process, resulting through the incorporation into the bodies of our first parents of the things that came from food unfit, through the violation of the command of God regarding what they should eat." (Jesus The Christ, p30)
Dallin H Oaks added to that the following:
“It was Eve who first transgressed the limits of Eden in order to initiate the conditions of mortality. Her act, whatever its nature, was formally a transgression but eternally a glorious necessity to open the doorway toward eternal life. Adam showed his wisdom by doing the same. …
“… We celebrate Eve’s act and honor her wisdom and courage in the great episode called the Fall. … Elder Joseph Fielding Smith said: ‘I never speak of the part Eve took in this fall as a sin, nor do I accuse Adam of a sin. … This was a transgression of the law, but not a sin.’ …
Consequences of the fall
But this transgression has left them in a bit of a state on the perfection front. Now, not only are they not complete but they are now as some would see it dirtied and sullied with mortality. Perfection seems further away than ever...except that wondrously, within the Great Plan, they are actually closer to perfection than in Eden.

Consider what happened as a consequence overall:
  • Mankind is now introduced to the world and mortality with its physical trials and hardships and temptations and death.
  • Having, now, the ability to distinguish between good and evil and choose either, sin (or spiritual death) is also introduced. 
  • No longer able to endure the presence of God in their mortal state, mankind are separated from Him. 
Specifically Eve is told that her pain and sorrow will greatly multiply as she bears children and Adam too is told that he will feel great pain and sweat as he has to labour to provide for him and his family. Interestingly, neither Adam or Eve are cursed or punished here.
Of Eve we are told that the serpent is cursed so that her seed will be able to crush it (thus prophecying of Christ's victory of Satan).
Of Adam, we are told that the ground is cursed  "for thy sake"(I'm not sure why the ground was cursed). It is an interesting turn of phrase. Whatever it means, it does seem to imply that the consequence of the ground being cursed and Adam now struggling for his existence was actually a good thing.

Metaphor of the seed
Consider a seed: Even a seedling today follows the same process that Adam and Eve did. The seed is formed in the plant or on the tree. When the time is right the plant or tree dispels that seed whereupon said seed, through one process or another, falls to the ground. As part of this process it goes into the earth and there finds the perfect setting of nutrients, external darkness and internal light to help it develop and intuitively know to stretch, to extend itself, to reach towards the greater light above. Thus imbued with the characteristics of the plant or tree it came from, it is perfectly capable of becoming a tree or plant as strong and as beautiful as the tree or plant it came from. And thus capable of producing seed as did the tree or plant it came from.

Similarly in our lives as divine seedlings we come to earth -  we are plunged into a world of darkness (or temptation) but there are also many things around us that can help nurture and nourish us. We too are imbued with characteristics from that source which gave us life and we have been given a portion of his light that we might know from whence we came and recognize and feel the need to push toward the greater portion of light above the surface of the earth. It is in this very struggle that we can eventually become that which we were born from. There is no other way. Eternal laws of nature decree it. Thus it was as necessary that the fall happen, as it is that a seed fall from a tree or a plant if it wishes to grow and become a tree or plant itself.

Perfection: pipedream or possible?
Are we perfect? Can we be fully perfected in this life? It seems hard to fathom. And yet we have a commandment suggesting we be perfect?

It seems altogether clear that to become as God (not just "like" God) we must learn and evolve and grow and then after all we can do, we must rely upon the saving merits and grace of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. There is no other way. We only grow by pushing beyond our current limitations - hence "because of my transgression my eyes are opened".
Even Christ, the Great Redeemer in this plan, had to study and learn in this classroom we call mortality. (Doctrine and Covenants 93:11-14). He was without sin - that much we do know or else he could not have been the Saviour of the world. But scripture seems to tell us even the Saviour had to go through mortality (condescend/fall) before being considered "perfect" or before becoming AS God (not just "like" God). The verse "...and the third day I shall be perfected" in Luke 13:32 seems to suggest the Saviour himself felt he was waiting to be perfected.
Even more telling is the sermon Christ preaches to the Nephite people AFTER his atonement and resurrection. It is pretty much the very same sermon he gave on the Mount as recorded in Matthew 5-6 except for one very interesting, small detail. When he gives the command to be perfect to the Nephites he uses himself as an example of perfection
"Therefore I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect." 3 Nephi 12:48
Adam and Eve fell so that mankind might exist and so that they might have a chance not only of being LIKE God but experiencing the joy of being AS God and Jesus Christ. 2 Nephi 2:25

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Old Testament Lesson 3: The Creation

"The three pillars of eternity, the three events, preeminent and transcendent above all others, are the creation, the fall, and the atonement. These three are the foundations upon which all things rest. Without any one of them all things would lose their purpose and meaning, and the plans and designs of Deity would come to naught."                                              Bruce R. McConkie The Three Pillars of Eternity
Today we will study the first pillar of these three pillars: The Creation. I have gone through it verse by verse as I feel there is just too much in these few simple verses to miss if we discuss general topics. But I have done so in the hope that it will bring to mind feelings of gratitude and joy for this wonderful creation that has given us so much. Do not get so caught up in the details that you forget to enjoy the overall beauty of this earth and all that is in it.

Period 1 of Creation: Light
v.2-5 (Moses 2, Genesis 1, Abraham 4)

v.2 the creation story of earth starts by indicating there were already materials to work with: darkness, waters, and an earth without form/void which was desolate/empty = matter, just not organized matter and unable to have growth due to absence of light. Darkness stunts our growth.This was not 'ex nihilo' (creation out of nothing) but creation using materials. God is the master chemist/physicist/biologist/scientist. He creates/He organizes.  Is the Spirit of God referring to the Holy Ghost or to the premortal spirit of Jesus Christ? cf John 1:1-5 Was it their mere presence as beings of light that created the light or was it introduced through some more mysterious process involving moving over the waters. 

v.3 the most basic element of life - LIGHT.  Light was necessary as much as water or earth. Aside from needing light to see what you are doing (ever tried to get that screwdriver out of the tool box in the shed/garage without a light? Ouch!), you also need light to grow things. Every seed you wish to grow needs earth, water and light. They need light to grow. Darkness alone will not create or grow life. Thus all this dark matter had to have an ingredient added - light. The only people that could add light are those who have light. Godhead. God the Father, Jesus Christ the Word and the Holy Ghost are the source of light. cf Doctrine and Covenants 88:7-13

v.4 "saw the light, that it was good"divides light from darkness (light divides by it's very introduction, it creates opposites as darkness cannot exist where there is light). This is the very same process as happened to the intelligences in the pre-mortal existence. Organization of intelligences seems to have created a natural division between those that were noble and great and those with darkness within. When God saw the noble and great ones with their light, he saw that they were good. cf Abraham 3:22-23 

v.5 the period of earth with darkness and the period of earth with light were considered as part of the same period of creation. Note that evening comes before morning in the measure of time. So too, to this day, the Jewish culture considers the day to begin in the evening (eg. their Sabbath or Shabbat begins once it gets dark on our Friday evening and goes through until Saturday's light is finished).

v.5 in Moses 2 very interesting differences to Genesis
  • "this I did by the word of my power" (Jesus Christ = Creator)
  • "and it was done as I spake" (all things obeyed God)
Who do we know wants to take the credit away from Christ and wants us to think it is ok to rebel against God? Seems to me Satan used his influence to have these two key facts removed from the text of the Old Testament.

Period 2 of Creation: Firmament (Universe/Heavens/Atmosphere)
v.6-8 (Moses2, Genesis 1, Abraham 4)

v.6-7 Abraham seems to clarify what Moses said in his account - that the firmament actually was designed to divide the waters mentioned in v.2 - waters above from waters below the firmament
v.6 and it was so even as I spake (again obedience highlighted)

What are these waters? When the waters were divided what became of the waters above the firmament? Are those the waters in the atmosphere, like rain, etc? Or are these waters some other waters beyond the boundaries of our universe?
Another creation, but this time no mention of it being good. Why was it not mentioned? Was it not as good? Did it just not satisfy God as much as other parts of his creations?

Period 3 of Creation: Sea, Dry Land, Seeded grass, plants and trees
v.9-13 (Moses 2, Genesis 1, Abraham 4)

v.9 "let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place" This seems to be in agreement with scientists who believe that the earth began as one single large land mass (Pangaea) and one single large sea mass (Panthalassa) cf Genesis 10:25 (earth divided in days of Peleg)
v.10 dry land called Earth; waters called Sea or Great Water. He saw that it was good.
v.11-12 grass, plants and trees all with ability to produce life from within themselves are created. Notice that with the introduction of light, and a suitable atmosphere, and then with the separation and order of land and water, the environment was now able to sustain life that could reproduce. This in turn sets the scene for animal and human life that needs the oxygen produced by the plants, to breath. Everything in its order. Organized, planned, perfect.
Once more it was even as he spake and once more he saw that it was good.
v.12 note the phrase "to bring forth..from its own seed, yielding fruit, whose seed could only bring forth the same in itself, after his kind" used for the grass, the herbs and the fruit trees. This seems like a very pointed thing to say. Why? What was the Lord thinking here? Was he already dispelling the philosophies of man that would suggest a more evolutionary process where species adapt into other species? Is it different in plant life to animal life?
v.13 Abraham adds an interesting sentence before telling us this was the third day. He says, "And it came to pass that they numbered the days." Why this little additional explanation? We can see they were numbering the days, he already indicated that twice before. So why does he clarify now that they were numbering the days? Is this a little nod to the role of mathematics in the creation?

Period 4 of Creation: Sun, Moon and stars
v14-19 (Moses 2, Genesis 1, Abraham 4)

v.14-15 why was there a need for extra lights? Wasn't the Day and the Night already separated? We are told they will be used as signs and symbols and to help predict the seasons and tell time (days and years) but it then reasserts that these lights will be there to give light upon the earth. So why? Maybe as the Lord was the current source of light, they needed to create more permanent light fixtures for earth as he wouldn't always be around?
v.16 "I God, made two great lights...and the stars also were made." In the context of this scripture, the stars seem much less important or worthy. When considering this sentiment in relation to their symbolism to the three degrees of glory (cf 1 Corinthians 15:40-42) it would seem the Lord is making a strong case for us avoiding the glory of the stars (cf Doctrine and Covenants 76:81-86, 98-112).
v.18 Abraham makes a fascinating diversion from the other accounts in Moses and Genesis here, when he indicates that the Gods waited and "watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed". I find this a fascinating insight into the creation. These things did not happen in an instant. Creation is a process. It takes patience and hard work. And it involves agency. Does "ordered" mean commanded or set in place in this verse? If they were waiting does it imply all creation has agency?

Period 5 of Creation: Water creatures and winged birds
v.20-23 (Moses 2, Genesis 1, Abraham 4)

v.20 "let the waters bring forth" - is this suggesting the water was a key element in creating the moving creatures of the sea? "Abundantly" - doesn't seem any sign that the Lord intended for things to run out. 

v.21 "after their kind" again it seems this key phrase is aimed at refuting any suggestion of cross species evolution.

v.22 God blessed the fowl of the air and the creatures of the sea to be fruitful and multiply and "fill" the sea and the earth. An interesting part of the creation I had not ever considered before. Why did he bless these and not the other creations prior to this?

Period 6 of Creation: Earth beasts, insects, animals. Adam and Eve.
v.24-31 (Moses 2, Genesis 1, Abraham 4)

v.26-27 "in our image, after our likeness" - male and female. This verse seems pretty clear in indicating we are modelled after divine beings who are male and female. Being one of the few to have seen the Father and the Son, Joseph Smith is qualified more than most to explain more to us: 
"God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret...if you were to see Him today, you would see Him like a man in form - like yourselves in all the person, image and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God..."
How was Adam created? cf Moses 6:59

v.26, 28 mankind is given dominion of fishes of the sea, beasts of the earth and fowls of the air. Here is our first kingdom. How do we rule over this world we are given to govern? Do we look after it, do we help it to grow and live or do we extinguish and destroy it? These verses really imply a lot about our purpose and divine destiny. We, of all the creations were the only ones modelled after God, made like Him and given the potential to be as Him. We were even given a kingdom to rule over in preparation for the many kingdoms we could rule over if we prove able and worthy. All of this is found in the first chapter of the first book of scripture available to mankind all over the world. There is no doubting that if they want to, mankind can know who they are and what their purpose really is.

v.28 another blessing, this time to mankind. Abraham's version seems to indicate that the Fall was definitely part of the plan. "We will cause them to be fruitful and multiply...". Considering when they were first created in a state of innocence they would not have been able to have children, this is a very powerful statement of intent.

v.25,31 God saw that all of his animal creations were good but what does he say of those he made in his image? "very good" This is the first very good of all His creations. It seems to me that God got the most joy and personal satisfaction when he created man. 

Period 7 of Creation: Sabbath Day
v.2-3 (Moses 3, Genesis 2, Abraham 5)

v.2-3 How did God make the Sabbath? God rested from all his work, but he still did create something in the 7th period - the sabbath - he blessed the day and sanctified it. The verb to bless in this verse comes from the Hebrew word "varech" which implies kneeling. Sanctified comes from the Hebrew word "kaddesh" which implies setting apart, consecrating for something special, or holy. To me there is a general sense that this day was a day to look back on all that had been accomplished and to give thanks that it was good. Now of course the question might be asked - who do the Gods have to give thanks to? Maybe that's another lesson another day but certainly it was a day of reflection on and resting from earthly matters. A day of holiness and a day of blessing. I believe this is a great way to regard our Sabbath. (cf Doctrine and Covenants 84:24 for another definition of rest: "fulness of his glory")

Garden of Eden
v.8-15 (Moses 3, Genesis 2) v.8-13 (Abraham 5)

Why did God create this garden? If everything he had thus created all over the earth was so good why the need for this garden?
I believe a teacher who knows the importance of setting a controlled environment for their classroom will probably understand why. Notice the location of the two trees mentioned  -tree of life and tree of knowledge of good and evil. God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil but yet he set this forbidden tree, not in the corner, not protected and shielded, but right in the middle and he made it pleasant to the sight! As a teacher who wants his pupils to learn something, that is a great way to guide the class to learn the lessons they need to learn while still giving them agency to choose for themselves. 

Abraham is alone in the 3 accounts of the creation in indicating that at this point Adam had not been appointed his time of reckoning. The verse (Abraham 5:3) implies that somehow this garden and Adam were still close to the dwelling place of God. What does this mean? Is it significant? Should we deduce from this that it was only when the Fall happened that the earth fell into it's present orbit and present reckoning of time?

v.18-23 (Moses 3, Genesis 2) v.14-19 (Abraham)

"it is not good that man should be alone"
"an help meet"
It is clear that it was not part of the plan to have Adam live alone. Eve was to live in eternal partnership with Adam - working together, complementing each other in tandem for the good of the earth and to help multiply. They were always meant to be equal in partnership while possessing different skills and qualities that when united create life and a perfect environment for growing life.

"The story of the rib, of course, is figurative"                                                                                                       Spencer W. Kimball 
So what does it symbolize then? 
"Interesting to me is the fact that animals fashioned by our Creator, such as dogs and cats, have thirteen pairs of ribs, but the human being has one less with only twelve. I presume another bone could have been used, but the rib, coming as it does from the side, seems to denote partnership. The rib signifies neither dominion nor subservience, but a lateral relationship as partners, to work and to live, side by side."                                                                                    Russell M. Nelson 

"Caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam" - if this story is figurative and there was no surgery and rib removal, why did Adam need to sleep. As you read the scriptures you may notice that sleep precedes the covenants the Lord makes with both Abraham and Jacob. Many stories also indicate instructions and blessings coming in dreams. Could it be that Adam was being taught or put under covenant as he was being introduced to Eve?

Other insights:

Maths and the creation - aside from the days of creation being numbered, did you notice how much division and multiplication is included in the story of the creation. It would seem that division is a eternal principle of organization and growth. I am sure those more mathematically minded than myself could add insight on this topic. But if you get a moment consider just consider how cells divide over and over in the creation of a new life. 

"Let there be" - seems to be suggesting "allowing" or creating the environment where natural laws can be enacted and obeyed.

Length of the Creation
"Some decades ago, the Council of the Twelve Apostles was asked to settle the controversy about the time required for the Creation and the length of a “day” in the Creation.  Some members of the Church took the position that a day was a 24-hour period; some believed that a day was an indeterminate period of time designated by accomplishment of events rather than a particular duration of set time measurements; and others were of the opinion that a day in the Creation was the same as stated in Peter 3:8 where Peter said that “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years” (See also Abraham 3:4).  The decision of the Quorum was that the Lord had not revealed the length of the Creation—therefore, a Latter-day Saint may chose to believe any of those definitions since no “doctrine” has been given which binds faithful saints to accept one definition over another." *Also see Old Testament Student Manual - Institute/Church Educational System (CES) - Religion 301, 3rd ed., pgs. 28-29 "How Old is the Earth?"

Organization and planning and one step at a time: do we often get overwhelmed at our week ahead. Do we feel that maybe there is too much to do and so little time to do it in? Do we panic about next Saturday without getting Monday under our belt? The order and planning of the creation is a great example of how to live our lives. And it seems it is one of the principles the Lord is expecting us to learn while we are here.
Maybe the lesson in all of this is that it doesn't matter how long it took, just as it doesn't matter how long it takes us to do something as long as we are actively doing it, organizing, sorting and dividing, creating and growing - and when it is completed make sure it is good or very good.

Still got questions?: cf Doctrine and Covenants 101:32-34

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Old Testament Lesson 2: Thou Wast Chosen Before Thou Wast Born

"Grand Universe" by Gary Tonge (click on picture to enlarge)
Take a minute to really look at and enjoy this picture.
What do you see? 
If you are like me then you will probably recognize the earth and the moon and the sun and the stars but not much else.

What does it inspire within you? How does it make you feel? Again if you are anything like me, you will probably feel a little awe-struck; maybe a little insignificant or overwhelmed by our nothingness; maybe somewhat mystified, amazed and inspired; and even a desire to learn more about this grand universe. 
Remember this is just a picture. 
Now imagine if you got to see all of this in person.
Abraham did. 
And much much person...with God as his tour guide!
What we will study today is amazing. What we learn will not be new to those of the LDS faith but it is profound and when understood within the framework of the lesson that the Lord God taught Abraham, it is truly inspiring.

The Lesson (part A)
So let's get to the lesson itself, Abraham 3:22-23.  
What are some of the things we learn, directly or indirectly, from this well-known passage of scripture? I have added a few insights from the text and some questions of my own that came to mind as I studied this week (I have not included answers to these questions) - they are questions that I hope will motivate a search of the scriptures and give you pause to ponder.
  • Before the world was created there were intelligences, they were organized and among them were many noble and great ones. 
    (Who were they and how did they get to be noble and great? (cf D&C 138:38-57) What did others do or not do that they did not become so noble or so great? What does it mean when they say they were "organized"?)
  • In this pre-earthly state, God saw these intelligences and saw that they were "good". 
    (What did He mean when he said they were "good"? Is this the same kind of "good" as when speaking of His creations where he declares them to be "good"?)
  • God stood in the midst of them and said that he would make them his "rulers". 
    (What is the significance of God standing in the midst of them?)
  • Abraham is told that he is one of those noble and great ones and that he was chosen before he was born. 
    (What does that mean to be chosen? We hear about being "called" and being "chosen" as two different stages. Was Abraham really chosen already at this point prior to earth life - if so what had he done to warrant such trust? Could he lose that trust once it was gained? Was Moses saved from the Nile and Abraham saved from the wicked priest of Elkanah because they were chosen? If Abraham was chosen before he was born into this earthly life, is it possible for us to be "chosen" before we die and move into our next level of existence?)
Personal Application
All of this insight and these questions can lead us to a deeper understanding about our own lives before we came to earth and the purpose of our lives here on earth. For example, knowing that 
  1. there seemed to be an organized system that allowed each of us to develop based on ability and merit 
  2. our development in pre-earth life qualified us for certain roles and blessings on earth...
...can help us more fully understand our individual purpose here today and what we might need to do to qualify for blessings after our earthly existence. 

President Harold B. Lee, in his last general conference address in October 1973, made this observation regarding the blessing we are born into in this life:
"All these rewards were seemingly promised, or foreordained, before
the world was. Surely these matters must have been determined by the
kind of lives we had lived in that premortal spirit world. Some may
question these assumptions, but at the same time they will accept
without any question the belief that each one of us will be judged when
we leave this earth according to his or her deeds during our lives here
in mortality. Isn't it just as reasonable to believe that what we have
received here in this earth life was given to each of us according to
merits of our conduct before we came here?"
Also, knowing God's definition of "good" and "noble" and "great" can help us know what to strive for. It seems one of the tests of this life is finding our true character - that being who we once were when we lived in the presence of God and before we took on this natural, mortal man.
One of the ways we can do that is with the aid of a patriarchal blessing.
Patriarchal blessings are a wonderful way to rediscover who we really were (and truly are) and identify the work the Lord has for us. They are a vital tool in helping us rise above the mortal mud-pit of mediocrity that we wallow in so often. I would encourage you to seek one as soon as possible and if you already have one I would encourage you to revisit it at least weekly, if not daily.

Ezra Taft Benson taught,
“God has held you in reserve to make your appearance in the final days before the second coming of the Lord. Some individuals will fall away; but the kingdom of God will remain intact to welcome the return of its head—even Jesus Christ. While our generation will be comparable in wickedness to the days of Noah, when the Lord cleansed the earth by flood, there is a major difference this time. It is that God has saved for the final inning some of His strongest children, who will help bear off the kingdom triumphantly. …
“… Make no mistake about it—you are a marked generation. There has never been more expected of the faithful in such a short period of time than there is of us” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson [1988], 104–5).
What does this quote (coupled with what we have learned in Abraham 3) suggest about our performance in the pre-existence? How does that make you feel about yourself? 

For those with patriarchal blessings may I suggest the following:
Study your patriarchal blessing and identify the characteristics you developed pre-earth and are now blessed with in this life. 
As you read your blessing identify instructions you have been given for this mortal life.
Using your patriarchal blessing identify what blessings you have been promised.

It is my sincere belief that we are greater than we realize, stronger than we suppose and capable of more than we currently imagine. This is the very same lesson Abraham learned here in chapter 3.

The Lesson (part B)
The other main passage of scripture we are asked to study in this lesson is Moses 4:1-4
In this particular passage of scripture Moses is taught a little bit more about Satan.  
What are some of the things we learn, directly or indirectly, from this passage of scripture?
  • Satan was with us originally when we learned of Heavenly Father's plan for us. 
    (What status did Satan have among us before he failed his first estate? Was Satan "chosen" for his role? If so, what qualified him?)
  • Satan volunteered to be our Saviour and Redeemer and promised everyone would be saved. (How did we feel when we first heard him volunteer? Were we enticed even a little by the prospect of guaranteed success? Do we see guaranteed salvation anywhere else in scriptures or modern day religions today? What is the problem with this philosophy when comparing it to God's purpose for us?)
  • Satan wanted the glory for himself. 
    (Was he suggesting God "retire"? He wanted God's honour, was the intention here a coup or a child seeking attention? What specifically was he after when he stated his condition of "give me thine honour"?)
  • Satan rebelled and sought to destroy the "agency of man" and was cast down by the power of Jesus Christ. 
    (Was Satan the first to rebel or did others put him up to it? If Satan was cast down, where was he cast down to before the earth was created? Was there a pre-mortal prison? Does the phrase "cast down" suggest a process, consequence as natural as those that went the other way and became noble and great?)
  • Satan became the devil and leads us captive at his will if we don't listen to God. 
    (It says he deceives and blinds men or in other words takes away light (cf D&C 93:39). What does it mean when it says he leads us away captive "at his will"? If disobedience takes away light, does obedience add light? Does this measure of light denote our goodness, our nobility, our greatness?)
So despite all the deep questions and insights that can come from serious pondering of the text, the principles learned in this lesson are simple:
  1. Before the world was, there were organized intelligences that varied in nobility and greatness. Abraham was one of the noble and great ones and because of his goodness was "chosen" before he came to earth to perform a task here on earth and to be a ruler here on earth.
  2. Before the world was, there were organized intelligences that varied in nobility and greatness. Satan was not so noble or great and eventually because of his ego or pride or greed or all three, he rebelled and was cast down to become the father of all lies, the devil.
 I don't know about you but I am fascinated by the contrast between these two stories. The church leadership, in asking us to study these two passages together, seem to want us to learn something. What do you think it is? Again I don't think this is a deep lesson. I think it is a very simple principle that even a child could understand but it is taught beautifully by contrasting Abraham's choices and elevation with Satan's choices and drastic fall. And the lesson is explained plainly by Thomas S Monson, who said simply,
“The choices we make determine our destiny.”
That right there is the lesson. It's a simple lesson but it is an eternal lesson. It is as true today as it will be after this life and as it was before this life. Abraham's choices helped him progress. Satan's choices stunted his growth.

Now what has all this got to do with the stars and planets and the universe at the beginning of Abraham 3?
The first part of Abraham 3 is not read nearly as much as the verses we studied just now. That is understandable as those verses 22-23 really are the point of the lesson but join me in reading the first part of the chapter and together lets discover how the Lord actually taught Abraham this principle. I think, like me, you will find a new depth of appreciation regarding this principle.

Firstly to dispel any notion that these two teaching moments are unrelated let's compare a couple of the verses: v.2-3 with v.22-23  
What similarities do you see between these two passages?
  • Abraham saw the stars
  • one was near throne of god
  • many great ones near it
  • these are the governing ones
  • name of the great one is Kolob
  • I have set this one to govern all things that are of the same order upon which thou standest
  • saw intelligences
  • one like unto God
  • God in the midst of them
  • many noble and great ones
  • These I will make my rulers
Who is the one "near the throne of God" or "like unto God"?

Now let us also compare v.6-9 with v.19 
What similarities do you see between these verses?
  • two facts exist
  • where there are two planets one greater than the other, another greater exists above them.
  • there is a planet that governs them all
  • two facts exist
  • where there are two intelligences one greater than the other, another greater exists above them.
  • there is an intelligence that governs them all
Who is represented by the planet that governs them all and is the intelligence that governs them all? 
And if you have any doubt still that the Lord wanted Abraham to draw a parallel between what he saw in the stars and what he saw when shown the intelligences, then read v.18. The word "howbeit" can be translated in our modern language as "Just as.." IN other words just as he made the greater star so too intelligences follow the same pattern.

The Lord has just taught Abraham about the order of the universe, and I dont know if you noticed but he also taught him about the space and time continuum and about the theory of relativity that Einstein rediscovered thousands of years later! That in itself is incredible. But in doing so He has also taught him about the order of intelligences. Do you see what he was teaching Abraham here? There is order and there is progression. It's as if he is telling Abraham, "Some intelligences are not as near to me yet as others. You Abraham, are close. You are not there yet. But you are close. I have a work for thee. You are called to rule over many. How many? Oh yes that's why I brought you out at at night (v.14). Look again at all those stars. Count them. As many as you can count and see and more, they will be your seed, will be under your rulership and governance. This my son, is your heritage. You can progress. Because that is what this whole universe is about. Order and Progression. If you are obedient you will progress and become like me and have all that I have."

Can you imagine that scene? Can you imagine being there being taught this same lesson as Abraham by the Lord. Can you imagine the Lord addressing you "My son. my son" or "My daughter, my daughter" (v.12). I imagine myself a few planets down the pecking order from Abraham but in the same way I imagine the Lord teaching me my potential and showing me my heritage there on that warm summer night with the stars shining brightly, innumerable in the heavens, as they do when there is no light from this mortal sphere to mask them.

And the lesson to us is that it matters not where we come in the order of things as long as we are part of that order and do not rebel against that order. For if we rebel we fall out of order and are no longer governable. But we also should know that no matter where we currently stand in that order, our Heavenly Father wants us to progress and become like Him. And as Thomas S Monson reminded us,
"Our choices determine our destiny."

If you wish to ponder this more cross reference this whole lesson with Doctrine and Covenants 130:18-21

Additional Study points:

v.20 why is this verse in here? It seems so out of place. Is it telling Abraham that God is the most intelligent being and was therefore able to deliver him from the priests of Elkenah? Or is it maybe helping Abraham see how special he is to God: I, the most intelligent being, the intelligence you must worship and praise and aspire to be like; I still, for all that greatness, care for you, love you and won't let anyone hurt you. I will deliver you from evil?

v.28 when you consider the things we have learned today and the great ideological battle that was fought AND when you consider with that how everyone living around us once chose the same choice we did and fought along side us, does it not make you feel more responsible for helping them "remember"?

In regards to the great lessons in astrophysics Abraham received, Spencer W. Kimball noted,

"Is it not thrilling to know that the prophets knew long ago that the earth is but one of numerous planets created and controlled by God! That knowledge came because faith and righteousness opened the door to revelation. It is from this perspective that we teach the truth that the Church is the greatest institution of learning in the world. The Church is designed to enlarge and develop the powers of our spirits, to educate us for eternity and to help us live intelligently and joyfully in mortality. The gospel and its teachings lead us to Christlike living, which in turn leads us not only toward exaltation but toward knowledge.
Of all the treasures of knowledge, the most truly vital is the knowledge of God, of his existence, his powers, his love, and his promises. Through this knowledge, we learn that our great objective in life is to build character. In fact, we learn that the building of faith and character is paramount, for character is higher than intellect, and perfect character will be continually rewarded with increased intellect." ("Seek Learning Even by Study and Also by Faith," Ensign, Sept. 1983, 4-5)

In this chapter we are referred to as intelligences, some brighter than others, but all capable of perfect brightness eventually, eternally. For further study on intelligences, their definition and make up, read Doctrine and Covenants 88 and 93. Its fascinating and is another step closer to understanding who we really are. It is literally enlightening! Is it any wonder then that the Lord used the lights in the heavens to explain intelligences to Abraham?

Below are my basic notes I took in trying to understand Abraham 3. It may help your study but I also included it here as I find when I am struggling to understand a chapter, writing a simple summary of each verse helps me focus and often reveals meaning to me. Of course, where any learning is concerned (especially scripture) this should also be coupled with prayer and pondering.
Abraham 3:

  1. Abraham has Urim and Thummin
  2. Saw stars; they were very great; one near throne of god; many great ones near it
  3. These are the governing ones; great one near me called Kolob; it governs all in its sphere
  4. Reckoning of Lords/Kolobs/earths time 1000:1
  5. Lesser light greater than earth but lesser than sun
  6. These two facts exist: given to thee to know times of reckoning, and set times
  7. Moon has longer set time as to reckoning of earth time
  8. Fact=creation and where these two creations exist, there is a greater one above it.
  9. This reckoning continues all the way to Kolob (which is near God and his reckoning)
  10. Given to thee to know all the set times of stars up to near to God
  11. Abraham talked with god face to face and was taught all of his works
  12. My son my son – then shown all the works
  13. Shinehah=sun; Kokob=star; Olea=moon; Kokeaubeam=stars in the sky
  14. Vision at night; promises his seed shall be as the stars he sees (or sands)
  15. Showing Abraham to teach Egyptians
  16. If two things exist and one is greater than the other then another greater exists above that; Kolob is greatest of what he has seen as it is nearest Him
  17. There is more above the earth and moon; if God commits to do it he will do it
  18. Just like the stars, intelligences also are never ending, eternal, there is always further to go.
  19. These two facts exist: there are two intelligences one greater than the other and there is a greater intelligence above them. God is greater than them all
  20. God delivered thee from priests of Elkanah
  21. I am come to declare my works and be in the midst of them governing them all. In the beginning I was in the midst of the intelligences you saw.
  22. Abraham had been shown the organized intelligences, in those intelligences he saw many noble and great ones.
  23. Noble and great chosen because they were “good”. Abraham is one.
  24. One among them like unto God; confirmation of commitment to follow through with creation “We will”
  25. Prove them now – test of obediance
  26. 1st estate=added upon; those that don’t  shall not have glory in the same kingdom; 2nd estate=glory added upon their heads forever and ever
  27. Who shall I send? 2 replies of “send me”. 1st chosen
  28. 2nd angry did not keep 1st estate; many followed.