Monday, November 30, 2009

LDS Lesson #9

When I arrived at the LDS Church at 6:30, it wasn't quite open yet; however, Lysistrata and Sappho--whom I hadn't expected to see again after the Center for Young Adults activity two nights ago--were standing outside teaching a Finnish potential convert (an attractive young woman who doesn't feature again in this narrative) Bible and BoM stories from a picture book, or something of the sort; one of the sisters told me that they're the same pictures used to teach her when they were little. Admetus and Alcestis finally arrived and opened up the church--it gets sealed behind a lowered sheet of metal akin to a garage door when not in use--and we all went inside. As they took the elevator up, I opted for the stairs so as to make a quick stop on the way.

And when we all reached the third floor it came to pass that the sisters took the main room for their lesson with the aforementioned Finnish girl, and I spent some final time in Admetus' little office space. When Creon and Orestes arrived, we took a few pictures to keep the memories alive, and then Creon and Orestes took me down a level to a room that would be suitable for our last meeting. As we waited for Admetus, it came to pass that the three of us looked at a pamphlet that had been left there; it was in Greek and evidently concerned LDS temples, because it contained numerous pictures of the insides of various rooms in some of them. I got to see what Orestes had been talking about when he spoke of 'grapes' hanging from the ceiling in the celestial room of the Salt Lake City Temple, and I could understand why Creon considers that temple to be a bit too "gaudy". It was nice to finally have some images to put with my impressions of what such a temple might be like. I said I was disappointed that it didn't have flickering candles in dark, secret chambers; when I said that I liked dark and creepy rituals, Orestes said, "But dark and creepy is so... weird."

And it came to pass that, when Admetus finally arrived and we opened the session with a quick time of prayer, they wanted to talk about revelation, and although looking forward to my final questions, I was happy to let them. It started out with a reading from Doctrine and Covenants 9:7-9 ("Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right then I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me"). As my missionary friends explained, Oliver Cowdery, who had been a scribe for the Book of Mormon, wanted a promotion, as it were. He wanted to try his hand at the act of translation itself. Joseph Smith consented to allow him to, but when Cowdery attempted it, he discovered that he was unable. The ninth section of Doctrine and Covenants was given in response to this event. Cowdery, they explained, failed in two respects: he failed to do the necessary legwork for receiving the gift, and he failed to bring the matter to God first.

And it came to pass that the next scriptural passage they brought up for discussion was Acts 1:22-26 ("Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection. And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen, that he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place. And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles"). According to them, there is no actual record of Matthias having personally seen the risen Christ. They used this passage as a biblical illustration of the procedure outlined in D&C 9:7-9. First, the eleven remaining apostles of Christ used their own powers of discernment to find two candidates for the position. In the words of D&C 9, they studied it out in their own minds. They then brought the issue to the Lord for a final decision on the matter, allowing it to be his choice rather than theirs. Of course, I note now that even if we accept this schematization, the two passages there diverge. Where D&C 9 urges the believer to take refuge in private feelings, Acts 1 shows the disciples using a more public venue of verification: visible lots. Whatever one may think about the merits of choosing by casting lots, at least it's a publicly visible result, if not a publicly visible mechanism. I wish I had thought of this during the meeting. Would've been fun to ask them.

And it came to pass that Creon said that it establishes a pattern, as Luke frequently does in Acts: when one apostle dies, another one must be appointed. I take issue with this. The reason for replacing Judas with Matthias was not so much Judas' death as his defection, as is essentially declared in Acts 1:25. When Jesus spoke of his disciples sitting on twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28), this seems to keep the number at a strict twelve, and any other apostles (for which the biblical requirements seem to rather clearly include having seen the risen Christ, cf. 1 Corinthians 9:1) would not be among the Twelve. So I question, for example, the LDS practice of continuing to claim to have a legitimate Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, since these must then be seen as supplanting Jesus' disciples after their death. (The Book of Mormon, by the way, reaffirms that Jesus' twelve disciples will judge the twelve tribes of Israel--see 1 Nephi 12:9 and Mormon 3:18--but doesn't really seem to grapple with the problem. On my reading of those passages, the Old World apostles will judge the New World apostles, and the New World apostles will judge the New World Israelites, so it seems. But this is all so foreign to Matthew 19:28 that it's difficult to take it seriously without an overriding reason to do so.)

And it came to pass that Orestes said that revelation is the key to God's one true church--namely, theirs--from top to bottom. Every person, he explained, has a responsibility to gain revelations for themselves from God. This requires preparation on the part of the seeker; as with the case of Oliver Cowdery, there's no license for being lazy and waiting on God to speak. Christ said, "ask, and ye shall receive" (John 16:24; D&C 4:7), and since what church to join is such a fundamental issue, surely it falls under the purview of that passage. Thus, we have biblical counsel to ask Christ what church to join. The hard part, he said, is knowing when one has done enough to receive such a revelation. Humility and sincerity are crucial. The exact words?
Revelation is so key to God's church, so key all the way up from the very top, all the way down to the very bottom. I mean, the prophet has a very big responsibility to be in tune with the Spirit and to get revelation for the Church as a whole. But in the very same, in a very serious sense, us personally, we have the responsibility to get personal revelation for ourselves, to know what things we need to change in our lives, what things we're doing good, to be really guided by the Spirit, and to receive, you know, that what we need. That is our communication, that's our link between us and God, through revelation, through the Holy Spirit. This is so important, especially because at least right now in your life this is exactly what you need. You need to be able to get an answer from God. You need to be ready to receive that answer. We've kinda talked a little bit about it, and we've said that you're kinda in the in-between phase, maybe it's true, maybe it's not, you just feel like you haven't really gotten an answer. And it's hard for me to believe really in any situation - especially for something as basic as this, like 'what church should I join?', like 'is the Book of Mormon true?', something-- such a basic question - when Christ said so many times in so many different ways, "Ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you"... I don't think that-- I mean, maybe rarely, God-- I don't try to limit what God can do, he can do what he wants, but according to my opinion I don't believe that God would make you wait to-- as long as you've done your part, I believe that he will give you that answer. Now, and that's the hard part, knowing if you've done enough, knowing if you've done your part. And so if you feel like you're not getting an answer, I'd like to invite you to check everything. Check first your motives. Why do you want an answer? Is this, is this, is this a sincere motive? Is this something that you would act upon? Think to yourself, you know, the Book of Mormon's a good book, you've read it and you liked it, but you don't know yet whether it's inspired, whether it's of God or not. So I guess that, that's the goal, you need to know where you're going with it, you need to have the goal, you need to have the answer. But you need to make sure that you're humble enough that you're ready to act on whatever God has for you, whether it be a yes or a no. But that, you know, that your intentions are-- you have every intention to act on the answer God will give you.
And it came to pass that Creon added that there is a difference between having a "desire to know" and having a "need to know". People who simply have a desire to know the truth--out of, say, academic curiosity--have no right to a revelation. Only those who have a felt need, who burn with passion to get to the heart of the matter, are ready for such a revelation. Since (or so he thinks) if the Book of Mormon is true, then it follows that Joseph Smith was a true prophet and the church and its priesthood have been restored, it is truly a matter of great consequence, and "baptism by this authority means salvation". (And, once again, salvation has been seemingly shifted away from Christ and onto their church's baptism, or at least that's how it comes across. And yes, of course I'm aware that one could say that the necessity of proper baptism derives from its inherent power as an identification with the death and resurrection of Christ, and so forth, so that salvation is from Christ through baptism, or some such formulation.) Thus, we must clearly perceive our own need to receive an answer. And as he put it:

Either you've been saved by the church that you're in already, or you haven't been. And it's either somewhere else, or you already have it. Um, the Book of Mormon is that perfect key, to say, "Alright, well I can know, if the Book of Mormon is true, then that means everything else about, you know, the steps behind that, there's certain precautions. So it means, 'Is my soul saved?' Because I have a need to be with God again. I have a need to be baptized, to be cleansed from all my sins, because if I'm not baptized by proper authority, then I won't be able to be in the kingdom of God and I have these sins still on me." So there's a big difference between just having a desire and having a need, and when God sees that our need is true, that we see our need, that's when I think he'll give us the answers as well. That's when he'll feed us the knowledge, because he knows that you are sincere and you will act upon these things.
And it came to pass that Orestes then turned to another passage of LDS scripture, Doctrine and Covenants 8:1-3 ("Oliver Cowdery, verily, verily, I say unto you, that assuredly as the Lord liveth, who is your God and your Redeemer, even so surely shall you receive a knowledge of whatsoever things you shall ask in faith, with an honest heart, believing that you shall receive a knowledge concerning the engravings of old records, which are ancient, which contain those parts of my scripture of which has been spoken by the manifestation of my Spirit. Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation; behold, this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground"). Here we find three criteria for receiving a revelation: (1) ask in faith, (2) have an honest heart, and (3) believe that an answer will be given. Another passage that he cited, Moroni 10:3-5 ("Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts. And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things"), the famous promise passage adored by Latter-day Saints everywhere, also lists three criteria: (1) have a sincere heart, (2) ask with real intent, and (3) have faith in Christ. (Notice how none of these 'promise' passages are from scripture that Latter-day Saints share in common with orthodox Christians?) We need to seek out of a true desire to please God. When Orestes asked me how that promise makes me feel, I answered, "That's a very, very strong promise, and if it is one that God really has given, then it's absolutely the most reliable method of coming to the truth." He replied, "I believe that wholeheartedly, and I don't think I could have put it better myself."

And at this point it came to pass that Creon chimed in with a biblical passage, Galatians 5:22 ("But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith"), and said that the fruit of the Spirit shows the quality of the "feelings that we're going to feel", the different forms that the feeling of confirmation takes. (I might add that this is such a peculiar interpretation of Galatians that I hardly know where to begin. None of the fruit of the Spirit are, properly speaking, 'feelings', or would not likely have been understood as such by the original hearers of Paul's letter.) The fuller statement, for context:
One of the things that sticks up to me is, "by the power of the Holy Ghost", which reminded me of Galatians, chapter 5, verse, uh, 22. Previously Paul is kind of mentioning all of the things that are not of the Holy Spirit, and then he talks about what is of the Spirit. So the kind of feelings that we're going to feel through the Holy Ghost, that's the power of the Holy Ghost, it says in verse 22 of Galatians, chapter 5, it says that "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance"--now temperance, the Greek word is a little bit different, the Greek word is 'self-control', it says "against such there is no law". So you can see that the fruits of the Spirit, the power that we're going to feel, it's a feeling, it's a power, and it's a converting power within us. In Doctrine and Covenants it says that there's a 'burning within the bosom'. Other people have said that it feels like a-- some people feel something from the top of their head to the bottom of their toes.
And it came to pass that Orestes, tying into this, brought in another LDS scripture, Doctrine and Covenants 6:20-23 ("Behold, thou art Oliver, and I have spoken unto thee because of thy desires; therefore treasure up these words in thy heart. Be faithful and diligent in keeping the commandments of God, and I will encircle thee in the arms of thy love. Behold, I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I am the same that came unto mine own, and mine own received me not. I am the light which shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not. Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things. Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?"), which Admetus read. Orestes explained that the peace given upon the request was an answer and a sufficient witness to the truth. "By fruits", he added, "we can know the false prophets", but he glossed this by saying that these fruits are whether the spirit of the teaching feels good or not so good. (Inside of my head at this time, a little man was banging his skull against the inside of my skull, shouting, "No! No! No!" When John exhorts people to "try the spirits" in 1 John 4:1, or Paul exhorts people to "prove all things" in 1 Thessalonians 5:1, our feelings were emphatically not the recommended measuring stick.) A fuller statement, for context:

Now I think many times, everyone of these days, they think, you know, "I, I gotta have something big", but in reality this-- Oliver had already received an answer to his prayers. He had prayed, and he had received that peace, that peace of mind, that-- those feelings that only come from the Spirit of God, and it spoke peace to his mind, he felt good about it. But yet he didn't trust that, he just thought, "You know, I, it feels good to pray." But that is a fruit, that is the fruit of the Spirit. Jesus Christ said that by fruits we can know the false prophets, I mean, by things as simple as, 'the spirit doesn't feel good', you know, or 'the spirit does feel good', by small things can we judge how to work, how to act, and so it's still-- it takes faith, it takes a little bit of faith, because it's not, you didn't see an angel, you didn't see anything, but then he says, "What greater witness can ye have than from God?" Because that feeling comes from God himself.
And it came to pass that Creon hearkened back to the clip we'd watched called The Restoration, particularly to a line given to Lucy Mack (Joseph Smith's mother) to the effect that he should obtain from God that which no man can take away, meaning a direct, private testimony of the truth that isn't susceptible to external disconfirmation. As Creon explained, no reasoning, no philosophy, no way of man can possibly undermine a 'personal testimony'--and therein, I think, lies one of the chief problems. Orestes encouraged me to engage in some introspection as to whether I'm truly open to the LDS faith and whether I meet the criteria outlined. (I do, save for believing firmly that God will indeed answer prayers in the way they describe, because I am neither persuaded from the Scriptures nor by reason that that's how God works.)

And it came to pass that Creon added that there's more involved than just reading the Book of Mormon; if one applies the Book of Mormon's principles to one's life, one will invariably become closer to God than someone else who abides by the principles of any other book, including the Bible itself. Needless to say, this proclamation of the Book of Mormon's practical superiority intrigued me, so I asked for some examples of principles that are in the Book of Mormon but are lacking in the Bible. The first example I was given was from 1 Nephi 3:7 ("And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing that he commandeth them"), wherein it is taught that the Lord will provide a path to accomplish any commandment he gives. (And yet, I find it curious that the practice of 'plural marriage' seems to have been stopped precisely because the government disapproved, and God purportedly commanded his church to acquiesce rather than follow the commandment that, in the teaching of many early LDS leaders, was essential to having eternal life.) They did concede, fortunately, that 1 Corinthians 10:13 ("There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it") stands as an obvious corollary. I personally would have to say that anyone who couldn't see that "God will make a way, where there seems to be no way" (in the words of Don Moen's now-classic song) would probably be a bit of a dullard, so color me unimpressed thus far with the Book of Mormon's alleged 'greater-than-the-Bible' insight.

And it came to pass that Admetus jumped in with another passage from the Book of Mormon, this time using Mosiah 2:17-18 ("And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God. Behold, ye have called me your king; and if I, whom ye call your king, do labor to serve you, then ought ye not to labor to serve one another?"). Service to others being service to God, he said, surpasses all biblical injunction, and Mosiah 2 is all about service. On the contrary, it seems to be that the Book of Mormon's statement here could be easily extrapolated from several verses in the New Testament, such as Matthew 25:40 ("And the king shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me") and a synthesis of Ephesians 6:7 ("With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men") and Galatians 5:13 ("For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another"). Admetus also referenced Alma 36 as teaching about the afterlife and 2 Nephi 2 as teaching about the fall, and both of these go beyond what the Bible says. However, since we were supposed to be focusing on principles for practical, day-to-day living, these were both irrelevant.

And it came to pass that, since they had already lost sight somewhat of the point of the question, I wasn't surprised when the trend continued. Creon brought up Alma 22:18 ("O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day. And now when the king had said these words, he was struck as if he were dead"), one of his favorite verses for the (admittedly very beautiful) phrase "I will give away all my sins to know thee". Admetus, with perhaps a slightly greater focus on the issue at hand, noted that the Book of Mormon is much clearer than the Bible on the proper mode of baptism. (He cited no verses other than the entire book of 3 Nephi.) He related a story from his youth when he and his father went to see a movie about the life of Jesus, and it featured a scene where John the Baptist led Jesus down into the river, and then proceeded to baptize him by sprinkling. His father had, of course, burst out laughing, as I probably would have as well. Orestes tossed in Alma 37:42-45 ("Therefore, they tarried in the wilderness, or did not travel a direct course, and were afflicted with hunger and thirst, because of their transgressions. And now, my son, I would that ye should understand that these things are not without a shadow; for as out fathers were slothful to give heed to this compass (now these things were temporal) they did not prosper; even so with things which are spiritual. For behold, it is as easy to give heed to the word of Christ, which will point you a straight course to eternal bliss, as it was for our fathers to give heed to this compass, which would point unto them a straight course to the promised land. And now I say, is there not a type in this thing? For just as surely as this director did bring our fathers, by following its course, to the promised land, shall the words of Christ, if we follow their course, carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise"), which he said gave a very clear interpretation of the brazen serpent from Exodus, though the brazen serpent actually appears nowhere in those verses; he must have been thinking of something else. And the allegorical use of the story of the Nephites, while quite nice, has probably been done ages before Joseph Smith's time by Christian commentators on the Exodus narrative. Creon hearkened back to Alma 37:6 ("Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say to you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise"), saying that LDS missionary work is an excellent example of "small and simple things" doing great deeds, because their church sends out such young missionaries. These things, they summed up, all cohere with the gospel but are not taught clearly in the Bible.

Finally moving back to the issue of revelation, it came to pass that Admetus related a story from former LDS Church president/prophet/seer Gordon B. Hinckley's famed interview with Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes. When Wallace asked him directly how a prophet speaks with God, Hinckley alluded to 1 Kings 19:9-13 ("And he came thither to a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah? And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away. And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?") and said that promptings come quietly and frequently to him as a "still, small voice". Admetus said that most people receive revelation, not via various objects (he gave as examples the Urim and Thummim and the Liahona), but quietly in the midst of prayer, as "thoughts in your mind and feelings in your heart". He cited some footnoted material from Joseph Smith-History to the effect that "these were days never to be forgotten", and he said that he was sure that our encounters would be days that none of us would ever forget. After all, he said, I was the first person they'd met who actually could understand the Christian creeds (which is rather sad), and we were leaving as good friends. Admetus also said that he was quite certain that I could have gone after them far more aggressively and vigorously than I did--which is very, very, very true.

And after this it came to pass that Creon related how some of our mutual friends go about receiving revelation, to give some concrete examples. Tiresias, for example, learns doctrine according to an interesting process. His first step is philosophizing, studying out the matter, developing an idea, and writing it down. He then talks to others about it, bounces the idea off of them, and revises and refines it. Then, he prays about it and asks God to enlighten his mind. After this, he spends some time in silence just staring at the paper on which he wrote down the idea. At times, he feels led to simply crumple it up and toss it; on other occasions, he sees points where it can be improved and then kept. Solon, on the other hand, alternates prayer and writing. He gets down on his knees to pray, then gets up to write something down, then gets down on his knees again, and repeats. When Creon asked what was going on, Solon said that he was going through the preceding day with the Lord, asking God to bring things to his remembrance or not, and seeking knowledge.

And it came to pass at this point that Orestes turned to me and said that "what you felt here tonight is the Holy Ghost". He urged me to trust in that feeling, however it happens to feel precisely, and to remember it always. If I do so, he said, I will "never go wrong", and that it would be the same feeling I'd get while praying about the Book of Mormon.
What you felt here tonight is the Holy Ghost, and if you learn to trust that feeling, learn to follow that feeling-- Never forget what the Holy Ghost feels like. For me, I can think of what I'm feeling right now and I can say, "Okay, I know exactly what it's like for me to have the Holy Ghost." For you, it might be different, but I think, I think you feel very much how I feel right now. I feel full right now. I feel very, very full inside, and I don't know how to explain it, I've always fallen short with words, but the Holy Spirit has borne witness to me tonight that the things that we've talked about were true principles, that these things were all true, and the Holy Ghost continues to bear witness in my life of the things that I do. It's so great because it's kinda like, sometimes you gotta know, like, "God, are you really happy where I'm at? Are you really needing me? Am I really-- am I a good person?" And it's so great to have that, that comfort, the Comforter to come and to witness to me time and time again that, 'Yeah, you're doing okay', or maybe, 'You can just fix this thing', and then I feel better. But never forget that feeling right now, because if you always remember that feeling, then you'll never go wrong, as long as you obey that. Now, know how it feels, and when you pray about the Book of Mormon, you'll receive that same feeling. You'll know that the Book of Mormon is true, through the fruits of the Spirit. [. . .] The Spirit is just delicious to my soul, I don't know how else to describe it, but right now I just feel full, I know the Spirit's here with us right now. That would be my one greatest counsel to you, is to know how you feel and to always live your life as to feel the Holy Ghost with you, to always feel this, to always have your spirit full, full of gratitude, full of faith, through all these things that the Spirit brings. And I know that the Book of Mormon also will help you with that, 'cause it helps me every day. These things-- I just am not the same person without it.
And it came to pass that around this time, during the earlier portion of this monologue, I could almost have tricked myself into believing that I was feeling a 'burning in the bosom', to use that term to cover all revelatory/confirmatory experiences of the sort that Latter-day Saints emphasize. That is, I felt happy and peaceful, of a sort; it's difficult to put into words in retrospect, though I tend to find that with most emotions. It was interesting to evaluate the process while it was happening, though. If I were an uncritical investigator, I probably wouldn't have given it a thought, but instead would have acclaimed it as the feeling of which they had spoken, and taken it as solid proof for the truth of their position. I can easily see how a person who wants to believe and has an uncritical epistemology could be taken in--and believe me when I say that I did want to believe, wanted to feel that 'burning in the bosom'. With a bit greater reflection, however, it was obvious that it was more or less the exact same feeling I always tend to have when having a good conversation with friends whom I really, really like. The feeling was, in all probability, no more than the psychological component of positive social experience. At least, so I think. But hey, what do I know?

Well, what I do know is this: that I have--or at least believe that I have; I'd be willing to reinterpret these experiences in light of forthcoming evidence, if necessary--felt the Holy Spirit very powerfully at various points in my life, in diverse ways. I've had what some might call 'mystical experiences', for example, those moments of God-intoxication in which I can feel the Spirit rush through my body, eliciting exuberant praise for God, and in which I'd hardly be surprised to see the heavens open, revealing the throne of God. I'd say I've felt the Spirit on other occasions, such as the day I ascended the steps toward my current church home; I felt a sense of peace, as though a burden were removed from my shoulders, of a kind that I've seldom felt since. And, as a lesser example, one might ascribe to the Spirit the sensation of recognizing Truth with a capital 'T' that I can feel coursing through my veins as I read the Nicene Creed--a liveliness and excitement and inner rejoicing at the lofty nature of God and his immense condescension to meet us where we are. If we're going to go by feelings--which I don't, because feelings can easily mislead, as I've learned the hard way at times--then no feeling I've had while talking to the missionaries or while reading the Book of Mormon can compare with the feelings I've just described as Spirit-inspired. If the Holy Spirit wanted to communicate with me via feelings and impressions, any of those would work fine for catching my attention, I think.

And it came to pass that, after I promised to use these tools to further investigate the Book of Mormon and the LDS Church, I was asked again if I had anyone I could possibly refer to them who might like to chat with LDS missionaries. They told me a bit about how exactly the referral process works. While I was fairly sure that I didn't know anyone in Athens who'd be interested, I said that I'd continue to think about anyone back in America who might be interested. After that, I got a bit of time to ask some last questions. The first one, which I didn't have on my list but which had occurred to me at some point over the last few weeks, was rather simple, and they actually had an answer of sorts. Noting that Joseph Smith claimed to have been visited by a number of 'resurrected personages' (e.g., Moroni, John the Baptist, Peter, the sons of Zebedee), I asked when they were resurrected. Creon answered that on Easter, many other saints rose from the dead along with the resurrection of Christ (cf. Matthew 27:52-53). If this had been the whole answer, it obviously wouldn't have worked. Creon, however, added that they understand the 'first resurrection' spoken of in Revelation 20:5-6 ("But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years") as beginning with the resurrection of Christ and continuing throughout the current age and up until the conclusion of Christ's millennial reign (which Latter-day Saints consider to be a future period, whereas as a tentative amillennialist I consider the present period to be the millennial reign). Thus, he explained, resurrections are actually ongoing in the present age, particularly for those who need to be raised from the dead for a given purpose, as was the case for the figures in question. With respect to the precise point in history at which any of them were raised from the dead, however, Creon professed an understandable ignorance. This was actually one of the few questions for which they had a decent answer, and I congratulated them on it.

My final question was one I had been saving, since it wouldn't have been appropriate at an earlier stage in the game. I noted that LDS evangelism places a high premium on urging people to pray for a direct revelation from God as to the truth of the message, and I asked whether Acts showed this to be the dominant apostolic method. And it came to pass that Orestes went to bat first, saying that conversion necessarily happens through the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit can work through a variety of media. The Book of Mormon is of course one but not the only one. The Holy Spirit can also reach people through the modern-day prophet, through talks, through pamphlets, and other ways as well. Admetus cited Matthew 28:18-20 ("And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen") for reasons that remain a tad inexplicable, while Creon raised the more relevant passage of Acts 2:37-41 ("Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you into the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls"), focusing on the phrase "pricked in the heart", which he said indicated that they felt the leading of the Holy Spirit; that is, they were receiving revelation. He said that "the way that we teach as missionaries is inspired of God", insofar as it's a clear case of God working through human weakness.

And it came to pass that, when I asked whether the rest of Acts bore out their analysis, Creon referenced his previous remarks about Acts as a book of patterns, and said that this is one of the patterns assumed throughout the rest of the work. He said that it doesn't appear as much in the case of Paul because much of Paul's mission was to strengthen those already converted in the faith, as can be seen in his letters. (Notice, of course, that at best, this just says that Acts assumes that the leading of the Holy Spirit will be involved in all true conversion, which is an uncontroversial proposition. I didn't challenge them on it there in the interest of time, though in retrospect I should have, but nowhere did they show that their methods in evangelism are at all parallel to those of Christ's apostles. The apostles appealed to verifiable facts and urged people to make the rational decision; Latter-day Saint missionaries frequently appeal to unverifiable private experience and urge people to follow their feelings.)

And it came to pass that this brought our very last meeting to a close at last. And it came to pass that I said the closing prayer:
Heavenly Father, God and Lord of all, I thank you for having had so many opportunities over the past couple months to meet such wonderful friends as these three men and to converse with them about things that do concern you and do concern what truly matters in life. I thank you for having watched over our conversations and having had a great deal to do with them. I pray that you would see fit to guard over all of us, guide us into all truth, and strengthen us in the days to come. As I depart to go back to the United States, I pray that you would continue to work in my life to show me truth and in their lives to show them truth, and that you would-- that it would be your will to allow us to keep in frequent contact and to continue to share with one another. We're so grateful for all of the many things that you've done in each of our lives, and we pray that we would all find the places that you have marked out for us in your grand plan for the renewal of the earth and the bringing of mankind into your love. Thank you, Lord, for everything. In Christ's name, Amen.
Saying goodbye wasn't easy, though it hasn't really hit me yet that I may never see these guys again, at least in this world. But I certainly hope I do. Creon and Orestes and I walked part of the way back from the church before our paths diverged; we shook hands one last time before I walked forward into the darkness once again...

Friday, November 27, 2009

LDS Lesson #8

After arriving at the church and finding my missionary friends, we sat down for the discussion after I told them about my time in Eleusis earlier this morning. (None of them had ever heard of it, oddly, despite the importance of the Eleusinian Mysteries.) I had decided that, since my time in Greece is starting to run short, I would allow them to run through the fifth pre-packaged lesson that they teach, and then we'd tackle further questions of mine next time. That struck me as the fairest and most reasonable approach. Imagine my surprise, however, when Creon told me that the fifth lesson proper is generally given after an investigator has been baptized:

Creon: What we want to do is, we want to teach two principles really quickly, like fifteen minutes, and then we can go on to your, if you have questions or anything.

JB: That's all that the fifth lesson is, just... two principles?

Creon: It is a couple of... There's four lessons before baptism; the fifth lesson is for after baptism, which is really just struct-- structional organization of the church, um, and preparing you to live the life of a member, calling [. . .]. But the doctrine-- and we've talked about the Restoration, um, the Plan of Salvation, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the commandments, we've taught a lot of the commandments, just a couple that we haven't really talked about.

Think about the implications of this: the underlying assumption is that basically any investigator will have either stopped the lessons or else converted by this point, after what would ordinarily be just four discussions with the missionaries. Does that seem presumptuous to anyone else?

At any rate, the first of the aforementioned two principles was the principle of tithing. He explained that the LDS Church has a wholly unpaid ministry, such that no church leaders are paid, and so some people wonder where the money goes. After he said that a tithe in their church is strictly 10% of one's income and that a form needs to be filled out for the end of the year, he enumerated some of the uses for those funds: free Books of Mormon for inquirers, nice centers and church buildings, temple construction, and the progression of the Church.

And it came to pass that Orestes jumped in to add that he especially likes the principle of tithing because it's the one thing that a Latter-day Saint can be sure that they can do perfectly, practically speaking. Not only is it simple to accomplish, it's quantifiable. And it came to pass that he explained that God gives us all that we have and asks only for a tenth of it back, and he cited Malachi 3:8-10 ("Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. Yet ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it"), which Creon read. Orestes went on to focus on the blessings, saying that modern-day prophets assure that faithful tithe-payers will survive on just 90% of their income.

And it came to pass that Creon moved on to what was evidently the second of the principles, fasting. He spoke of fast offerings. In the LDS Church, everyone fasts on the first Sunday of every month. They do this with a specific goal in mind, and the fast lasts for 24 hours, beginning and closing with a time of prayer. Having skipped two meals, they then donate the money that the meals would have purchased to the branch, which uses it to feed the needy in the branch. Orestes added that this allows even those who are down on their luck to have the opportunity to help those less fortunate, because basically anyone (save for medical reasons, of course) can fast and then give money that would've been outgoing anyway. And it came to pass that Orestes cited Isaiah 58:5-7 ("Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD? Is this not the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast into thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?"), a passage that I've always loved and have actually preached on from the pulpit, and said that fasting helps us to gain self-mastery, a valuable control over the body that Jesus exhibited during his time in the wilderness. Orestes, in fact, interpreted the phrase "loose the bands of wickedness" to refer to gaining self-mastery, which I consider exegetically doubtful but homiletically intriguing.

And it came to pass that Creon, jumping off this point, said that many sins result from the body overpowering the spirit, one example being violations of the law of chastity. Admetus finally spoke up and continued to quote from that chapter of Isaiah. In Isaiah 58:9-12 ("Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee thy yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity; and if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday: and the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not. And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in"), he said, prayer and fasting, "the twins of spirituality", are connected.

At this point, a lull in the conversation - I think Admetus had to take a call on his cell phone - gave me a chance to ask Creon and Orestes about the problems they'd had at the first fireside chat with the lights. Any readers out there may remember me having written:
Around this time, the Latter-day Saints were having some problems with the front two rows of lights in the room, which had apparently been working perfectly fine just this morning. They never did get them to work.
And it came to pass that Creon answered unto me, saying that they'd had an electrician come to look at it, and the electrician had said that the problem was actually quite serious, and the lights could have basically caught fire at any time. Yikes. So, he said, they'll be coming back to fix it tomorrow.

Returning to the topic of discussion, it came to pass that Orestes said that he likes to make his fast last from Saturday morning through Sunday morning because it means he can eat right after church. Admetus, now back from his phone call, related some experiences from his time as a bishop in Utah. This was the first I'd heard that Admetus had been a bishop, so that caught me a bit off-guard. Anyway, he said that at one point he helped out a non-member with supplies from the storehouse for three weeks, although normal practice is that the aid program is internal because the members are the ones contributing to it. Admetus also enjoyed the end-of-year tithe settlements, which he called "one of the most delightful things". He then related a case in which former LDS Church president/prophet/seer Gordon B. Hinckley had been in the Philippines - I think this was before he was president - and he preached on tithing. A journalist in the crowd, I think it was, asked how he could preach such a command to such poor people, and Hinckley replied with the promise that full tithe-payers would always have "rice in their bowls and shirts on their backs". And it came to pass that Orestes held up the example of the widow's mite (referencing a parable of Jesus--see Mark 12:38-44 and Luke 21:1-4) to show that sacrifice is what matters, not raw quantity. Finally, Admetus chimed in to say that some newspapers claim that the LDS Church is wealthy, but he said that 80%-90% of the money goes straight back into buildings and other programs. I was reminded of the story of St. Lawrence the Deacon, a sort of Christian parallel to the story of Cornelia Africana. To quote from St. Augustine (Sermo 302.8):
St. Lawrence was an archdeacon. Somebody was pursuing him in order to get the church's money from him, so tradition tells us. [. . .] What he said was this: "Let me have some carts so I can bring you the riches of the church in them." The carts were brought, and he loaded them up with poor people. Then he ordered them to be taken back with the words, "These are the riches of the church."
And it came to pass after that that Creon said that those were the two principles they'd wanted to teach, and then he said to me, "So, when you join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will you be a full tithe-payer?" My response was, "Of course I would." Note, of course, the distinction between his "will" and my "would"; I see no reason thus far to think that I will join the LDS Church, since I remain unpersuaded of their doctrine.

This concluded our scheduled programming, and so with this unexpected freedom to approach some of my other questions early, it came to pass that the first thing we revisited was the subject of Jesus and Jehovah. To review: Latter-day Saints hold that Jesus Christ is Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament, but that neither the Father nor the Holy Spirit shares in the identity of Jehovah. They, for Latter-day Saints, are other Gods altogether. Jehovah's Witnesses, on the other hand, hold that the Father is the one true god Jehovah, that Jesus Christ is a lesser, created being who can be called "a god" by a liberal application of the term, and that the Holy Spirit is not a person at all, but rather akin to a force. Trinitarians, on the other hand, hold that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three distinct persons (not separate beings) who all share in the one unique divine identity of Jehovah. Ordinarily, when dealing with Jehovah's Witnesses, I have to present the case that Jesus Christ is fully divine, is the one true God rather than merely a lesser god of some sort. One way to do this, of course, is to demonstrate that Jesus shares in the divine identity of Jehovah. When dealing with Latter-day Saints, however, the situation is diametrically opposite, and I have to make the case that the Father, like the Son, is Jehovah. (Of course, if it can be established that both the Father and the Son are Jehovah, then the logical conclusion is at least binitarianism, if not Trinitarianism proper. There cannot be two Jehovah's--later Jewish speculation about Metatron as a "lesser Jehovah" aside.

At the end of the fireside chat, it had then come to pass that I'd informed Creon and Orestes that the Tetragrammaton was indeed used in the passages I'd cited at the previous lesson. So when it came to pass that we came to this subject now, it also came to pass that Orestes pulled out a card he'd drafted with some verses from Psalm 22, one of the passages we'd discussed, listing the Hebrew word behind various verses, two of which - ones that I'd cited - were affirmed as being the name of Jehovah.

Orestes: The bad news is, the Jehovah's Witnesses are right.

[some laughter by all]

Creon: There are some scriptures where there's some contradicting verses on who Jehovah is and who Jesus Christ is, um, three of them particularly. And we said that we would check them in a concordance that he had, what the actual words were, if they were Jehovah or if they were [Elohim], and on these particular three verses Jehovah [. . .].

Orestes: But the neighbor verses before and after were very-- like right at the beginning it says, "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?", in Psalms 22, and he says-- that's where he says, "El, El", which is just the singular form of Elohim, and there's things like where Jesus Christ is-- when he's speaking to God, he never calls him Jehovah, never. But when it's, when it's kinda like talking about from a third-person, God and Jesus Christ, there are a few parts where it talks about, um, about Jehovah and "it pleases Jehovah to bruise him".

Creon: This is what we looked at these verses to, um, and we couldn't quite wrap our minds around it, um, but they are all those messiah chapters, so somebody prophesied that they are Christ--

Orestes: David talking from the perspective of Christ, um, basically (?) prophesying that about Christ--

Admetus: While speaking messianically.

Orestes: Yeah, yeah, while speaking messianically. And for me, [. . .], the only God that David knew was the god Jehovah, and so when he sees Christ and Christ speaking to God, I don't see how he could have any other name or anything else to call him but Jehovah. Well, I mean, that's my personal opinion.

JB: In my opinion, if the Father were not Jehovah, then the simple way to avoid giving the appearance-- I mean, this basically is, you know-- I would take these chapters as making it, as showing one person who is Jehovah and a distinct person who is the Messiah. Of course, I also believe that the Messiah is Jehovah as well, which is where I differ strongly from Jehovah's Witnesses. What I would say is that it seems like it would have been simple for God to inspire the prophet, "Just use 'Elohim' in those cases."

Orestes: Mm. Exactly. And that's what I think is interesting, like, whenever you see that it was, like, Jesus Christ quoted in-- from when he was on the cross, and, but, in the psalm, the original psalm, it never said Jehovah. That's just very interesting.

JB: In that verse, you mean?

Orestes: Yeah, in the first verse of [Psalm] 22, and in a lot of similar verses throughout all these psalms where David's speaking messianically, is Christ actually, like, speaking? You never hear Christ calling God "Jehovah". It says "Lord", Adonai, as you see there, or El, or...

Creon: When he was calling upon him.

Orestes: When he was speaking, like, as God, as Jesus Christ.

JB: So how would you--just to make sure I'm clear on how we're resolving this--what would you say about passages like Isaiah 53, verses 6 and 10, and Psalm 2, verse 2?

Orestes: Mm, just the fact that it says "Jehovah" in Hebrew?

JB: Yeah, where it's saying, you know-- like especially in Psalm 2:2, where it says, you know, "the kings will rage against Jehovah and against his anointed one", the Messiah.

Orestes: Mm. Well, what would I say... I haven't done much thorough investigation of that subject, but I say that I have faith in Jesus Christ, and that in the fourth chapter of Acts it says that there's no other name given whereby salvation cometh, only through the name of Jesus Christ, and neither is there any name given under heaven than the name of Jesus Christ, and that's where I put all my money, in Jesus Christ. If that makes sense.

JB: I'm not quite sure how it addresses the issue, but it makes sense. I think it would be a good verse to use against a Jehovah's Witness to show them that [. . .].

[laughter from all of us]

Creon: That's the hard part, too, that the, I mean, there's, there's verses like this but then there's just as many equally [sic] verses that say that Jesus [is the atonement (?)] and that would defer that [or: differ], and so, again going back to looking at the Bible, and there's conflicting verses in it, you can't be [sic?] faith in the Bible alone.

[a bit of silence, then something by Orestes I couldn't quite make out, but which may have been irrelevant to the conversation anyway]

Creon: But we did look at that, it was really fun, I've never used a concordance before. I was like, "Ooh!", I got really-- I started looking at other scriptures, it was a lot of fun. It was really fun.

So, in the end, the best answer they could come up with was basically, 'Well, yeah, these verses do go completely against what we teach. Must be corrupt verses, then, 'cuz we sure can't be wrong, no matter what the Bible says.' That seems to be a common fallback position here: if the source refutes your stance, stick to your guns and dismiss the source on no other grounds than its divergence from your own opinion. And it came to pass that, after a bit more conversation about the pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton, Orestes asked me if there were any other questions I had that they could help me with. The answer was yes, of course. I dug out the sheet of paper on which I still had a couple unanswered questions, and I decided to select #6. Here's what was next said:

JB: Do you remember a while back--I forget which meeting, I'm pretty sure it was the meeting, the first meeting you [i.e., Orestes] were there--uh, we were talk-- I'd asked about whether or not, um, God had a pre-mortal or a mortal existence, and I think you guys said that it's not really something that's been revealed to us, something along those lines?

Creon: Well we do know that couplet that we talked about, "As God is, man may become; as man is, God once was." [That's part of (?)] like who he was, or is, what he did.

JB: So then, did God have a mortal existence at some point?

Admetus: Pre-mortal?

JB: Mortal or pre-mortal.

Admetus: Heavenly Father?

JB: Yeah, Elohim. If we're going to agree with Lorenzo Snow couplet theology--and I know that not all Latter-day Saints do, I think there's a Latter-day Saint lawyer who does philosophy writing, Blake Ostler, he's written a three-volume series, Exploring Mormon Thought, something like that, I'd love to get my hands on it sometime, but I know that-- I remember reading somewhere that he rejects Lorenzo Snow-- the theology of the couplet. But it seems that if you do accept the theology of the couplet, that as, you know, God once was, man now is, basically, then you'd have to say that he had a mortal existence.

And it came to pass from here that the conversation took off into a rather fun ride. Admetus first agreed that yes, it does seem to follow, although one would have a very hard time actually finding Lorenzo Snow couplet theology in the Standard Works. And it came to pass that Admetus followed that up by saying, "The question is, does that mean that God is progressing? And if he's progressing, then how can he be omniscient?" He then basically pleaded out of the question by saying that, while we're given knowledge about "things pertaining to this earth", matters of pre-mortality are things that "we just don't know yet". Orestes, jokingly, boasted that maybe there are things that Admetus and Creon doesn't know, but he knows it all, which got a few laughs. And then Creon added, "Yeah, [JB], you should know that you've started some long discussions between [Orestes] and I. We've had some long nights." Heh, that's the idea.

And it came to pass that Admetus asked me what I thought about the couplet, so I said, "I think that it encapsulates very clearly a certain teaching. Personally, I don't actually agree with either of the two clauses in it." He then gave me some helpful biographical background about Lorenzo Snow. He studied theology at Oberlin College and was invited by his Latter-day Saint sister Eliza to meet with some Latter-day Saints. I interjected briefly to ask if this was the Eliza who wrote a Latter-day Saint hymn for which I couldn't recall the title but which contained the line, "Truth is reason, truth eternal tells me I've a mother there." The answer was yes, and it took them a little bit, but they remembered that the title was "O My Father". And it came to pass that Orestes said that these days it isn't a very popular hymn in the LDS Church, which I find interesting. I wonder if it has anything to do with a decreasing emphasis on the already low stress placed on the 'Heavenly Mother' idea; after all, she has been struck out of the latest revision of the LDS teaching manual Gospel Principles (see here and here).

Anyway, regarding the couplet, it came to pass that they said that it wasn't quite "pure doctrine that we totally espouse" (Admetus' words), but I asked them each individually whether or not they personally believe the teaching, with the result being that Admetus and Orestes both believe it, while Creon says that he suspects that it's true. At this point, we wandered into a brief discussion of books, a topic on which I could wax eloquent for hours, and I mentioned a few of the LDS books I've been meaning to get:
As Creon put it after I listed just a few of them--not even all the books by LDS authors on my wishlist, actually--"[JB], you're a better Mormon than I am." He said he was falling behind, and I said, "My mission in life is to inspire people to catch up." When we finally returned to the topic proper, I asked them for their thoughts on the couplet theology, and Creon said that he thought it was very beautiful. Then:

JB: So you would say that Heavenly Father is still progressing?

Creon: Mmhmm, and I believe that he progresses through the salvation of his children.

JB: So that progression is a progression of external glory, you know, through the salvation of his children, not really a progression in his own attributes? Okay.

Creon: He continues to progress through our development.

Orestes [to Creon]: You scared me for a second.

[Creon laughs, and they seem to bicker a little bit.]

JB: Here I am, sparking more conversation between you two for the rest of the night.

Creon: It's gonna be a long night tonight.

Admetus: Yeah, when these two go home, they'll be going back and forth all night.

And it came to pass that I asked them if they'd ever heard of the King Follett Discourse (KFD). Admetus and Orestes nodded; Creon looked confused and asked what it was. Admetus and I explained that it was a sermon delivered by Joseph Smith at the funeral of a Latter-day Saint named King Follett (that's a terrible name to have) who was put out of his misery (the misery of being named "King Follett", that is) by having his head smashed by rocks. The reason that the sermon is so important is that Joseph Smith preached a lot of fascinating new (and very unorthodox) teachings in it. Fortunately, I had printed out a copy from the BYU website, and I read them a few passages that I felt summed up the edgy parts pretty well:

If any man, not knowing what kind of being God is, inquires to know if the declaration of the apostle [cf. John 17:3] is true--and searches diligently his own heart--he will admit that he has not eternal life; for there can be no eternal life on any other principle. [. . .] First, God himself, who sits enthroned in yonder heaven, is a man like one of you. That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today and you were to see the great God who holds this world its orbit and upholds all things by his power, you would see him in the image and the very form of a man [. . .] I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined that God was God from all eternity. That he was not is an idea incomprehensible to some. But it is the simple and first principle of the gospel--to know for a certainty the character of God, that we may converse with him as one man with another. God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth the same as Jesus Christ himself did, and I will show it from the Bible. [. . .] Jesus said, "As the Father hath power in himself, even so hath the Son power." [. . .] To do what? Why, what the Father did. The answer is obvious--in a manner to lay down his body and take it up again. Jesus, what are you going to do? To lay down my life as my Father did, and take it up again. If you do not believe it, you do not believe the Bible. [. . .] Here, then, is eternal life--to know the only wise and true God. And you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves--to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done--by going from a small degree to another, from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you are able to sit in glory as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power.
Rather bold statements for fellow to make, no? (I should note that Smith's "scriptural" quote from Jesus seems to be a mishmash of John 5:26 and John 10:18.) So I asked my friends for their reflections and thoughts on the KFD (especially insofar as Smith claims these things to be essential core doctrines of his message, without which no one can have eternal life), particularly Creon's since this was his first exposure to the text itself, although many quotes from it circulate in LDS circles. And it came to pass that he said that we all need to keep a goal in mind on life's journey or else we'll never obtain it. The Latter-day Saint goal is loftier than the goal envisioned by orthodox Christians (my term), and both groups will obtain their sought-after goal. While Admetus stepped out to take another quick phone call, Orestes raised another issue:
And what does that mean when John says, 'Life eternal is to know God'? I mean, by men's creeds they say that God is incomprehensible, that God is unknowable (?).
So this is where I decided to - yet again - try to clarify the incomprehensible nature of God. I explained to Orestes that back in the fourth century, there were false teachers, Arians, who went so far as to boast that they knew God's very essence just as well as God himself did, that they had comprehensive knowledge of God. This, obviously, goes way, way too far. Various orthodox theologians, reacting to it, had to stress the other side, the depths to which we can't know God. Because that was where they had to put their stress, some of them went a bit too far in denying positive knowledge of God, but the basic point is that speaking of God as 'incomprehensible' was originally meant to be a way of denying that we can know God fully in the sense that some Arians were saying (which is interesting because Arius himself seems to have held to a higher view of the essence of God, and consequently denied that even Jesus knew God's essence). Thus, while I would say that we can know (apprehend) God to a great extent, to comprehend God fully would require being utterly omniscient and equal to him. This, I think, is the best way to understand the creedal statements of divine incomprehensibility (though, of course, with shifting usage of 'incomprehensible', it might be best to rephrase things for clarity's sake). Orestes asked whether I thought we would someday fully comprehend God, and I said that I don't think so, because to grasp God fully would require understanding everything that he understands, and we will not be omniscient; he said that in his belief, knowing God is knowing everything about him, and because we will someday be just like God, we will have this.

And it came to pass that, when Admetus had returned, he provided some interesting background on the King Follett Discourse, including the interesting fact that Lorenzo Snow was present at the funeral and only publicized his thoughts after hearing Joseph Smith say basically the same thing; before that, Snow had only confined his couplet theology with his close friend Brigham Young. He said that, while "a lot of people don't know about the King Follett Address", the KFD has some "good, solid doctrine in there", but it's very deep. Admetus also said that he thinks that if Satan is smart, his best plan would be to confuse people about the right concept of the Godhead, because misleading someone there is crucial to misleading them everywhere. He said that "I think we have about 1524 Christian churches today, I don't know what the number is, and they all kinda have a little different belief in what God is." Needless to say, I corrected him by pointing out that theology proper, even matters of Christology and pneumatology, are those relatively few things on which all those Christian churches agree; the differences are in more relatively peripheral matters. On a related note, we turned to the issue of differences between Christians--and as Creon said of the LDS, "we're either crazy or we're right"--and I pointed out that there are crucial splits of theological opinion even within the LDS Church. I cited Blake Ostler's rejection of Lorenzo Snow couplet theology as one pivotal example; as I recall it, at least, Ostler maintains that the Heavenly Father was always God (see here and here). The presentation of a monolithic LDS Church against the woefully splintered 'apostate Christendom' is a myth.

In vague connection with this, I asked what they thought about how Joseph Smith - unlike Admetus - appears to have regarded his teaching in the KFD as being necessary to believe in order to gain eternal life. And it came to pass that Orestes' answer was that, while knowing God is eternal life, a seeming rejection of these teachings isn't really a rejection of them, but merely a temporary case of ignorance that will be remedied in the future when the 'blinders' come off. Creon said that someone like Ostler, a faithful Latter-day Saint who disagrees with those teachings, is acting in accordance with his present level of knowledge, but won't be held accountable for that. First of all, I wonder what Ostler would think to know that these missionaries implied that he's just too ignorant to see the truth of it, considering that Ostler is without a doubt one of the keenest analytical minds in the LDS camp. Also, notice that this totally sidesteps the issue. Some Latter-day Saints reject Smith's view of God as presented in the KFD. That can't be avoided. We can't brush that off as 'not really rejection'; it is rejection, pure and simple. (Otherwise, allow me to just say that Latter-day Saints don't really reject the Nicene Creed, they're just in temporary ignorance that will be revealed when the blinders come off.) And Smith said that belief in what he was teaching, then and there, was a requirement for obtaining eternal life, the highest degree of exaltation. There doesn't seem to be any other way to understand what Smith was saying. So according to Smith, some LDS folks are for that reason excluded from the celestial kingdom. Either he was wrong (which would be bad for a prophet, considering the importance of that), or he was right (in which case, the matter is evidently a very serious one indeed, and Latter-day Saints should stop dismissing it as mere 'speculation'). Anyway, Admetus went on to say that scholars may differ on doctrine, but can maintain full fellowship, and that while some take issue with the KFD or even with the Word of Wisdom, they can be faithful members of the Church, "faithful to Joseph Smith and the Restoration". I merely question whether Joseph Smith or Brigham Young or Lorenzo Snow would have agreed with that statement.

And it came to pass that here's where I contributed a quick bonus question about exaltation, drawing on something Orestes had said earlier. The question was fairly simple: with respect to those of us who enter the celestial kingdom and eternal progression, will omniscience eventually be attained? The answer I was given was that it sure couldn't be easy, but Orestes affirmed that someday we will become omniscient; Creon and Admetus agreed. Here, then, is where I sprung a more challenging question: how is it possible to go from having finite knowledge (as we do now) to having infinite knowledge (as an omniscient being seemingly must)?

(Allow me to quickly defend a premise that they didn't challenge: namely, that an omniscient being has infinite knowledge. It seems that there must be an infinite number of truths. For example, using mathematics and dismissing constructivism for the moment, there must be an infinite number of truths about sums of real numbers. Turning to the extra-mental world, even if we allow for LDS variations on open theism and deny God knowledge of future contingent truths, and even if we affirm that the past is finite in extent, there seems to be an infinite number of facts, particularly if time is infinitely divisible and for any true propositions about times t(x) and t(z), there must be a true proposition about some time t(y) between them. If there are true counterfactuals of any sort, even probabilistic, then God must know an infinite number of truths about what he could have done with each of the infinite chunks of matter that co-existed eternally with him in LDS thought. And if we say that the matter is finite, then while there may no doubt be a finite number of permutations, he could probably have given an infinite number of names to any given object x, and so {"God could have named x 'Shelly'", "God could have named x '1001011101'", "God could have named x 'John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt'", ...} would be an infinite set. But if the past is infinite in extent--as is apparently implied by LDS cosmology, which is a reason I see to reject it, pace Ostler--then omniscience must definitely entail knowledge of an infinite number of facts about the various moments of the past anyway. So I think it safe to refer to omniscience as infinite knowledge.)

And so it came to pass that Orestes gave the response, and verily it was a rather disappointing one. Here's the exchange, best as I can reconstruct it:

JB: I guess I'm just trying to get my head around how is it even theoretically possible to become omniscient. I mean, assuming, you know, a sort of a finite span of time or something analogous to time at the very least, it seems like because of what infinity is, you know, to know an infinite number of truths would take-- we'd never actually get there, there's-- It seems, at least in my reflection on it, there's no to go from having a finite amount of knowledge to having all knowledge.

Orestes: That's what's so crazy about our little mortal mind. It's just something that I don't think the mortal mind can comprehend infinity, because we've never even experienced infinity, we don't know what infinity is. Who knows what eternal is [. . .]. All we can see is, 'There has to be a beginning!', you know? Like, you're just like, 'How are (?) some things just there?' [. . .] They're just like, our minds can't comprehend that. I think that probably doesn't answer your question.

JB: I think that's because infinity itself is so infinitely far above us that we can't really...

[I get cut off for a while by other pressing business with Admetus for a moment.]

Orestes: I'm sorry, I didn't mean to cut you off. What were you saying?

JB: It just seems like the reason our mortal minds have such a hard time comprehending infinity is that infinity is infinitely above us, it's not-- it's too high for us to comprehend. And I suppose my opinion is, that's kind of my point. That it's not only too high for us to comprehend, but as a matter of sheer logical reality, it's too high for us to ever actually attain to from where we are now. I mean, the question I've been asking is, how might it be logically possible to at one point have a finite amount of knowledge and gradually work your way up to having an infinite amount of knowledge, to being omniscient.

Admetus: I don't know if logic can really answer that.

Orestes: I don't think logically any mind can comprehend infinity [. . .]. We're too restricted.

Admetus: That's the philosophy major coming out in you.

JB: Yep.

Orestes: But how did God, how does he have no beginning? Like, how did he just appear, he's always been there, he's always there. Doesn't that just blow your mind too? Yet you accept it.

JB: It doesn't really blow my mind. It doesn't strike me as logically incoherent, for example. It actually strikes me as sort of natural.

Orestes: That something lasts forever.

Admetus: That's kind of the definition of eternity.

JB: I mean, by definition God is the constant because time was an invention of his. He entered-- he chose to begin time, so naturally it isn't something that applies to him as he is in himself. It's something he freely chose to initiate.

Admetus: So how does the concept of man ever becoming (?) a god, how does that strike you?

JB: It really depends on what you mean by the term "god". If you mean the term "god" in the same sense that the Father is God, including all of the, uh-- what I'd call the essential divine attributes, things like 'being all-powerful', 'being all-knowing', and so forth, I would have to say that it strikes me oddly, because I just don't see any way that it could be possible. Not that I'm having a hard time understanding what it means, but it just seems to be as false as saying that in the future, two plus two will equal seven.

[Admetus asked a question that I can't quote verbatim, but I think it was along the lines of, 'You don't doubt that there's a divine spark in us that longs to grow to be like the Father, do you?'.]

JB: It depends on what you mean by "divine spark". I would say that-- how did Blaise Pascal put it? That there is a God-shaped hole in the heart of every one of us that only God can fill, I think is the way he stated it. I believe that the way God has created us does reflect something of his communicable attributes at the very least, and even finite reflections of his infinite attributes. But I really don't think that there is a-- I think that what he is and what we are, are two fundamentally different things.

Creon: I like what you said 'cuz it reminded me of a scripture. You said, I mean it just seems impossible that man could ever obtain, become like God. And that just reminded me of a scripture. In Luke 1:37, "For with God"--'cuz without God we can't do anything, we couldn't obtain that--"for with God, nothing shall be impossible".

JB [as I flip a page in my notebook and prepare to reply]: Hold on one second...

Admetus: Well maybe that's a great place to end.

JB: Sure, why not?

Orestes: Unless you want a rebuttal.

JB: That just carries this on [. . .].

So I opted to let it go there, because I knew that time was tight, although in a more ideal world I would've pounced on that egregious abuse of the verse in question, first of all, and I also wouldn't have let them get away from the whole 'becoming omniscient' thing by saying that it's beyond logic. But, sometimes things have to be let go, unanswered and unrefuted, sadly enough. This brought our meeting to a close; the next one is Monday.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

LDS Fireside Chat #2

I arrived at the church far earlier than I'd anticipated. While the fireside was scheduled to start at around 7:45, I was there shortly after 7:00. Upon finding my way to the room where it'd be held, I struck up a conversation with a Swedish missionary whom I'll call "Tiresias". I'd met him before. After a little while, a missionary on crutches whom I hadn't met previously (I'll call him "Solon") approached me and began talking to me in Greek. We carried on a little discussion in that language for perhaps a full minute or so before I came across something I couldn't clarify sufficiently in Greek, so I reverted to English. He was rather surprised; evidently, my bearded visage and voice had led him to believe that I was, in fact, a Greek. Solon and I chatted for a bit before he had to keep moving on. I learned later from Creon that Solon had injured his ankle playing football just a little while ago, with just four weeks left in his mission here. Tiresias and I resumed our conversation, which ranged over a number of subjects from names (particularly surnames involving patronymics and also theophoric given names) to differences between the Latter-day Saint movement and other Christian traditions.

As I took a seat near about halfway back, though near the back of the occupied seating area, I met another elder from Italy whom I'll call "Kostas". He didn't speak English fluently, and his accent was rather thick, but we had a good chat anyway. Eventually, the fireside kicked off with hymn #241, "Count Your Many Blessings"; Alcestis was the chorister. Most of the people there sang it in Greek; I may have been among the rare few singing in English. After an opening prayer in English, it was time for a mixed men's quartet comprised of Creon, Orestes, Ajax, and "Cleisthenes", a Latter-day Saint whom I'd met several times previously. I think he may be Ajax's ministry partner. Anyway, they did a good job with the song, "I Marvel at the Miracle", which Alcestis accompanied on the piano. I couldn't hear Creon or Orestes very well, though.

Finally, there was nothing standing in the way of the main event, the talk by Elder Gerald J. Causse, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy. He had previously served as president of the Paris stake and later an Area Seventy for the Europe West area, just as Elder Johann Wondra from the previous fireside was an Area Seventy for the Europe East area. Causse is now the first French member of the First Quorum of the Seventy. To the best of my ability to preserve it, here is what he said in his talk:

Dear brothers and sisters, it is a joy for me to be with you today. Thank you for coming. Thank you for taking this time. I know that Athens is a very big town, big city, and maybe you had to travel a lot (?) for a long time to come here, and I want to thank you all for this special opportunity for me to meet with the Saints of Athens. I would like to congratulate Mark for his decision to be baptized. We-- I don't know you, this is the first time we meet each other, but you will be soon a part of this big family, this large family that goes beyond the sea to every country and all over the world. Millions of people will make the same kind of decision that you did, to follow [or: join the fold of] Jesus Christ. I hope you feel like a member of this large family.

I would like to talk about it, large family. [I live in] France, I have a brother who lives in Canada, another sister who lives in the United States, and we all feel that when our parents met (?) the Church, it all changed our lives for the better. I will always be grateful for the decision my parents, my father and mother, did in 1963 when they joined the Church.

We live in a very difficult world. Whatever country we live in, we live in the middle of a storm. This is a storm about moral values, this is a storm about principles, about the way people act, about their honesty, about their principle of life, about family values, and all around us we have these difficulties that we can see. We know that we are in the latter days, and-- because we are Saints of-- we are Latter-day Saints, Saints of the latter days. We are the same church as the one that was started by Jesus Christ centuries ago, but we are in the latter days, meaning that Satan has never been so powerful than at this special time in the history of the world. So, so these are challenging times, and we know that in the future Satan will even have more power over mankind, that [or: and] many of the members of the Church will be tempted to just give up and go somewhere else, because they will feel that being a member of the Church is highly (?) [. . . burden (?)] because they are so different from the other people, and I know here in Greece that being a member of the Church is sometimes a challenge because you may feel that you are different from the society that only accepts a certain kind of church and tradition, and you are not in, within the tradition or accepting the tradition, and you may be almost persecuted or even rejected.

So I know that this is sometimes some pressure on the members of the Church and [remember that (?)] the Church of Jesus Christ has to, just as in the first days when Jesus organized his church in these countries like Greece and in other countries around the Mediterranean Sea, being a member of the Christian church, a follower of Jesus Christ, was a challenge, and it was maybe even more than a challenge because in our days we don't have to, to be put in the circus [. . .] Roman [. . .] emperor and be eaten by wild beasts, but that is what they had to go through at this time. But these are challenging times for all members of the Church, all over the world. At the same time we know - and this is very positive - a promise I would like to share with you. We know that in these last days this Church will be the only church, we are teaching and preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, it will be the only safe place that people could find, will be able to find on the earth. And more and more people will just join the Church because he will like to, to find and he will be seeking a safe place, safety, surety in their life.

I love-- Do you have in Greek this hymn, umm... "Master, the Tempest is Raging"? Does it exist in Greek? Okay, only in English, I'm sorry. It was my favorite-- well it is also in French. It was my favorite hymn when, when I was a boy, I love playing it on the piano. And it's about the story of Joseph Smith-- uh, ah, of Jesus Christ, sorry-- and Jesus Christ was on this boat in the middle of a storm, and with the disciples, and maybe you remember that the disciples were afraid, that they could sink and that the boat would sink into the sea. And what was Jesus doing? Do you remember? He was asleep! On a pillow, in the middle of the storm. You just imagine the image of, of Jesus on this boat that was shaken by waves. And the disciples, they, "Wow" (?), so they awoke Jesus and they said, "Do something about the tempest, we are having to die, we are going to disappear into the, the waters!" And he stood up and he, he rebuked the winds, and he said, "Peace, be still", and the water was calm again, the water was calm again. And then he turned to the disciples, and--you remember what he said? "Why are you so fearful? Why do you have not, no faith?" He was talking about their faith, about their fear, and we know that if we have faith we have no fear.

And then what's basically his message to, to these disciples? Brothers and sisters, we are in the boat of the Church. This boat is in the middle of a tempest. This boat is shaken by waves. It's not easy to be a member because, you know, there's a storm outside, okay? It's not easy. Well I don't know if we have any seamen in the congregation, unless you have ever been to, on a boat, maybe in Greece, it's kind of important [. . .] from time to time; you have the sea everywhere around-- I've been on boats, not in middle of tempest but it was shaking enough for me to be sick. And when you are in middle of tempest on a boat, what do you want to do? Do you want to jump overboard and try to swim to escape the tempest? Is this something you want to do? Doesn't work. And we have so many of people today in this storm who say, "Okay, we prefer to swim, don't want to be with the only man who can do something about the tempest." So many people who think that when they have troubles and challenge in their life, they should just walk away from God. But we know that this Church is a safe place, because of its principle, because Jesus - being at the center of the Church - is the captain of the boat. And we want to be with the captain who can lead the boat and say to the tempest, "Peace, be still." We don't want to jump away from, from him. He's the only man who can do anything about this, and it is the best thing [or: blessing] (?) about [or: of] being in the Church.

I have another friends who are not members of the Church, and sometimes they just ask us about our family. And they say, "Well, you know, you have a beautiful family, what do you do?" They just feel a special spirit in our home, and they say, "What, how do you do this?" And then we talk about principle, we go to church every Sunday. And they just say, "Well, okay, no, church is not for me." And then sometimes some of them, they will say, "Yes, church is for me", but a lot of people say, "We want to have the peace and the safety, but we don't need any constraints. We don't want to make efforts, so give us a free peace, and then we'll be better off." But peace is not free, peace requires some efforts, and we know it! But these are joyful efforts, with our joyful actions and trials, in same [or: some] way being member of the Church.

Just to share with you something about friends, um, a little story: Two years ago-- I have five children, and, uh-- four girls, one boy-- and one of our girls was three years old at that time, she was a young girl, she was going to the preschool, and, uh-- two or three days a week, and she had a wonderful teacher there. We didn't know her very much, um, we only had a few messages from time to time that were written on the notebook that she would take back home every day. And one day we looked at the notebook, we opened it and there was a message for us, saying, "Could you put a picture of your family on the notebook?" We say, "Okay." So my, my wife selected a beautiful picture and put it on the notebook. Two days later, my wife arrived at school to pick up my daughter, and the teacher was there standing, waiting for her. And she said, "I see in the picture of your family", and she was very direct. "There must be something about your family, I want to know. Tell me." She said, "You know, I feel something special about your family. I want to know." Well, maybe it wasn't just the picture, maybe she had observed and watched my daughter, I don't know. And my wife said, "The gospel of Jesus Christ." And she said, "Well, I want to know." And my, my wife invited her over for dinner with her husband and her daughter, and we had a nice dinner at home, and we talked about love but not very much about the Church. I don't know why, I'm ashamed of it, but it was what happened. And they didn't ask any questions, and so we didn't maybe want to talk too much about the Church.

And the day after, she called my wife again, on the phone, and she said, "We had a wonderful dinner, thank you very much, the food was good. But we came to your home because we wanted to know about your gospel and your Church! You didn't tell us." And my wife says, "Okay, we'll invite two missionaries and you will be back." Okay, so the next Sunday they were back for Family Home Evening with two missionaries, and it was a wonderful time that we had. [. . .] She was following all the commandments already, she was following everything about the Plan of Salvation by herself, just [. . .] trying to find her own revelation. And she just [. . .] "Okay, I know you, I know your Church, it's the church I've been looking for for years and years." And she was baptized with her daughter, five years later. Long time [. . .]. She had missionaries at home very often, she felt she was not ready for it, then one day she called and she said, "I want to be baptized." [. . .] and we congratulated her very much and we said, "We want to be at your baptism service", and then I said, "You know [. . .] your little daughter, who was three years old, five years later she's eight. Why (?) do you want to be baptized next month [. . .] a baptismal service for the two of you?" And they were baptized the same day, at the same service, the teacher and the daughter.

And, um, I tell this story because it shows about peace, it shows that the light of Christ can touch the people who are prepared. And, some of you have the stories (?), and you wonder [or: enter] (?) about (?) water baptism, and it was like, you wake up (?) [. . .] the Church [. . .] yours. I want to be known to the fold of Jesus Christ, I want to be part of-- it's not only a church, because a church is an organization, this is the family of the followers of Jesus Christ [. . .] followers, not just people with traditions, but people with a strong belief and that act every day of their life to be disciples, true disciples of Jesus Christ. You are a member of this great family. Of this family it is said in Ephesians, chapter 2, "Now, therefore ye are, ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of God." So this is the message: wherever you live, you may be in a [. . .] big (?) ward or you may be in a small branch in Greece, or you may be in the islands of the sea where maybe there are only ten members [. . .] any time, you are full, 100% citizens, fellow citizens, with the saints and of the household of God, because you are built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone. Being a member of the Church, being active in the Church, has nothing to do with the size of the branch you belong to. I hope you, you feel the same member as any other members. You are members of the Church of Jesus Christ, you have made covenants in the waters of baptism.

I remember a story I [was (?) told by President Packer. President Packer is the quorum, the president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, so he is the senior apostle in the Church, and he told us the following story. He was at a stake conference in a big meeting - in the United States, I think - and he noticed that in the congregation there were several hundreds of people in the stake, and he noticed there were a lot of gray hairs. People were [. . .] older people, and he turned to the stake president and said, "You have a lot of elderly people in your stake", and the stake president said, "Yes, that's a problem. Because these people, you know, we can't ask them to do a lot of things, they are not very active in the Church, they can't do a lot of [. . .]." And then President Packer turned to him and said, "President, are they active in the gospel?" What is important? Is it being active in the Church or active in the gospel?" Of course we are active in the Church, but even more important, are we active in the gospel?

Let me tell you the story of a man who was not active in the Church but was active in the gospel, because that was his circumstances. But he's a true example to me. A few months ago I, I made a tour of the Arabic Peninsula--so, the gulf, the states in the gulf like Kuwait, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, all these Muslim countries. And with Elder Holland, a member of the Twelve, and we toured, um, this stake, it's a big stake, covering seven or eight countries, and in these countries you have no missionaries, because it's not authorized, there's no way you can go out and proselyte [sic], so you just have the members who live there, most of them are Filipinos or Americans or neutral, people coming from all kinds of countries, Indians, Pakistanis, and they come and the only way you, you can convert people is just members talking to other members, it's the only way you can. And it's very difficult to find where the chapels are, because you have no right to advertise where the chapel is, and so there's no announcement in the newspapers, no information about the growth of the Church, so unless you have a computer - but most of the people don't have computers there, especially those who are workers. They have no access to computers, so they don't know where the church is, and we know that there are thousands of people in Saudi Arabia, in other of these countries, who are members of the Church who just don't know where the church is.

And Elder Holland went to Saudi Arabia, and he told me this story of a man he, he met. This man was a Filipino, so from the Philippines, he was a member of the Church and arrived in Saudi Arabia, and he was living in one of the cities of Saudi Arabia. And he looked for the church, couldn't find it, he didn't know where the church was, no way, there's no sign even outside of the church, so you have no information about it, there's no way you can find it. What he decided to do every Sunday-- not every Sunday, on Friday, because Sabbath day is Friday in these countries-- every Friday, it was the only day off he had, he would walk on the street, go to the next shopping center or, I don't know what place, and he would walk and hum, sing, [Elder Causse hums the tune of some LDS hymn], hoping that someone would cross his way and say, "Ohh, you're a member of the Church! I know where the church is, I will tell you." And Elder Holland told me that he did that for seventeen years before he could find the church. Well, this man was not active in the Church, right? He was not going to meetings. Was he active in the gospel? I think yes. And he was a great member of the Church, I'm very impressed in his example of persistence in his case, in the Lord Jesus Christ, in his willingness to be an active member. And I'm sure that the Lord received his gift of all these efforts trying to find the church.

Well, he's now a full, active member of the Church, but what is being active in the gospel? We can go every Sunday to, to meetings; we can be members or non-members or just come because we love missionaries or because we love the spirit or because we love going to meetings and we love to be around and have friends, but are we active in the gospel just because we go to meetings? Is going to meetings the only characteristic of an active member, of being active in the gospel? Well, how do we know if we are active in the gospel? How can I know I'm active in the gospel? Is there a way I can learn about this? May I propose you something very simple? I know that I am active in the gospel if I feel the Holy Ghost as often as possible, as a constant companion, as it is we read in the Scriptures. Having the companionship of the Holy Ghost is a true test of our discipleship. Having the company of the Holy Ghost is really the greatest gift that we can obtain in this life, because if we think about it, the Holy Ghost can comfort us when we have difficulties, when we have sad moments in our life. We can receive this peace, special peace in the middle of the storm [. . .].

Second, we can be guided in our decisions, when we have tough decisions, "What should I do? What kind of work?", or we can be led to some work. We can maybe find a new apartment that we are looking for, or we can find missionaries when looking for, for those who are non-members. Or we can be led in the way we approach our friends, we can be led and guided in the love (?). We can and-- this is probably the most important principle about the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost is a cleanser, it's a cleansing agent. This is the agent of repentance. If we need to repent, this is by the Holy Ghost that we will feel that we have been forgiven. This is through the Holy Ghost that the atonement of Jesus Christ is real in our life, that we can feel the power of the atonement in our life, that we can receive hope in ourselves.

Some people think-- okay, let me give you an example. I had a good friend in France, got baptized a few years ago. After one or two months, she had a sad face one Sunday morning at church. I stopped her and I said, "Well, Linda, I notice you are not be doing well, what, what's the matter with you, what's the problem?" And she said, "Well, I was baptized two months ago" - I tell Mark this story of mine - "I was baptized, I was baptized two months ago, and well, you know, members, they are all-- the members of the Church, they are all perfect. They know everything. They know the Scriptures, they know what to do, they do all things well, they have beautiful families [. . .] I feel I can't be perfect like them. [. . .] I'm a divorced woman", she said, "I still struggle in my life [. . .], I need to improve myself... I don't feel like I'm perfect enough to be a member of the Church." I said, "Well, [. . .] perfect people. The Lord Jesus Christ didn't come for people who didn't need him, he came for people who had needs in their lives."

You remember the image of Paul in Corinthians when he compares the Church to a body? He said in the body you have different members: the nose, the eyes, the legs, the hands, and he says, well, all members are different. Don't expect that in the body all members are the same, I hope that we don't have only legs or only hands. Every member has his own function, his own purpose, and the whole of it makes the Church. And sometimes the hand is pain, we have pain with hands or pain with the eyes or, like me, I should wear glasses now. And when one of the members is suffering, the whole body suffers. And Paul says, well, the weakest members are needy, are needed in the Church. They are very important members, we need them. Don't feel because you should have some problems that you don't belong to the Church because you are not being a member of the Church. You are blessing, a blessing to all the members because you provide opportunities for others to serve you, to help you.

And so we need from time to time to have, you know, sometime when I-- two years ago when I was called as a Seventy, I was-- it was-- I was called, that I would leave my family-- not my family, but my house and my country, and I will not live there in my country for the next 25 years of my life. I knew it. [. . .] and although I consider myself to be a strong member of the Church, it was really something difficult, it was tough. And the first thing I did was, I took my phone, I called one of my good friends of the quorum, and I said, "Well, will you come? I need a blessing." And he came, and he gave me a blessing, and we gave blessings to all members of my family, and it was really the starting point of a lot of blessings in our life. So we may be strong [some of the time (?)] and weak other days, sometime we need something from others and sometime we give something to others, but this is what the Church is. We are all trying to do our best and to be faithful, and without help each other - and this is really the basics of the covenant that we make as members of the Church.

In Mosiah, chapter 18, verses 8, 9, and 10, it speaks about the covenant of baptism. So this is the covenant of your baptism. "And now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people"--so this is this family that I was talking about, the family of people who are on the boat, shaken by waves, but with a captain who can do something about it, okay? So, "to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another's burdens, that they may be light; yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand"--so, we hear, members of the same family, to help each other, to share our burdens, our difficulties, and at the same time lift up each other, and stand, "to stand as witnesses of God at all times, in all things, in all places"--this is another part of the covenant of baptism. We promise that we'll be witnesses of Jesus. It isn't always easy, because when we stand as witnesses we just [. . .] we declare the gospel and we preach the gospel.

"In all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection"--"Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?" So if we say "the Spirit", the Spirit is really the promise of the covenant, you know, we say we do a number of things, we are witnesses, we follow the commandments, and then we get the Spirit with us. And every Sunday when we partake of the sacrament, in the prayer of sacrament there is a wonderful promise that we may receive his Spirit. So every Sunday we renew this, we renew this promise so that we have the Spirit as the constant companion to help us every day of our life, of our lives. Getting the Spirit is [contingent (?)] very much to our obedience, to our following the commandments. Can we receive the Spirit if we are not worthy his being in our temple, preaching the temple of our body? Are we holy temple enough, are we being the temple enough, to receive the Holy Ghost?

Let me talk a bit about commandments, receiving and following the commandments. I know it's not always easy to change life and to, you know, to doing the right thing, to be, um, to stop smoking for someone, or for others going to church every Sunday, or [. . .] something else, to pay tithing, or these kind of things. When we think about it, obedience is linked to love. There is a very close relationship between love and obedience. Jesus said, "If you love me, follow my commandments", or "keep my commandments" [. . .] "If you love me, keep my commandments." Have you ever thought that obey (?) commandments was using (?) the love that we have for God and Jesus Christ? I really believe that the more close, the closer we are to Jesus Christ, the more easy we find it to follow the commandments. And that should be an invitation to you, that you would read the scriptures every day of your life, you would pray, you would be so close to Jesus Christ that you develop your love for him. And the more you will love Jesus Christ, the more you will like to please him, to be one with him, and to obey the commandments. And that you will obey, not because of force or because you just make the commitment to doing, but--not only this, but because of your pure love for Jesus Christ, you will just want [. . .] obedience as a gift to him, to express gratitude for Jesus and what he did on the cross.

[. . .] I would like to finish now because I see that the time is almost over and we need to go to the airport and we are flying tonight to Cyprus [. . .] and Friday we'll be back in Athens. But let me just share [. . .] with you. When I first read that verse (?) many years ago, I was a small baby, I was raised in this Church, and I was not always aware of how blessed I was to belong in the Church, because sometimes you meet the Church only when you are forty years old, [. . .] 45 or 46. I was in the Church now, I was [. . . .] options, but I had the privilege of changing them [. . .] in a very small way over my childhood, and I could receive all this gospel teaching. But I will always be indebted to my parents because they made that decision. When I turned twenty years old, I was an adult and had to make a lot of decisions of my own, usually [. . .] about the future, what [. . .] you want to be, what kind of job, [. . .] find someone to marry [. . .]. And at that time I made a lot of decisions, always based on the gospel of Jesus Christ [. . .].

[. . . . .] The atonement of Jesus Christ is powerful, he changes lot of people. Don't ever say, "We don't need the atonement of Jesus Christ", don't ever say, "It's not for me", it is for you. This is a free gift of Jesus Christ [. . .] he's our Savior, he's our Redeemer, he gave his life for us, he's [. . .] for us. He is part of the Great Plan of Happiness that your salvation is, salvation is happiness, it is the same. The Church of Jesus Christ, his church, has been restored on the earth. It's not a religion, it's not a tradition, it's not a culture, it's not all this; it is the true gospel, it's the living gospel, this is a living way of life that we have in our lives and that blesses our life every day, every minute of our life. This is what is our [. . .] activity in the gospel, in the strength [. . .] proclaim the gospel, in the joy [. . .] members of the Church [. . .] and active in the gospel. I pray this with all my heart and in my love for you, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Allow me to just say, first of all, that after trying to get all that to repeat here, I now have a profound respect for those who compiled the Journal of Discourses. It's no easy task to reconstruct an entire talk or sermon, and this one was 38 minutes and 14 seconds long. That aside, it was a fairly fine talk in terms of content and delivery. After it was over, we all sang hymn #58, "Come, Ye Children of the Lord", and again most were singing in Greek. There was a closing prayer in Greek, and then the event proper was over. I had hoped to catch Elder Causse quickly before he left, but he was gone pretty much immediately, and I was trapped in conversations with others. At any rate, I stayed around for a while and complimented Ajax and Cleisthenes on their performance in the mixed men's quartet earlier. To my recollection, not much worthy of note happened before I left for the evening.