Worst of all possible worlds

Worst of all possible worlds?

I just read this very interesting critique on the penal substitution model of the atonement. I really recommend it because I don’t think Latter Day Saints on the whole thing often enough about what the atonement actually is  and how to understand it in line with god’s divine attributes.

The comment that really struck me in this post was this one

“6. I repeat: God does not punish Jesus, or even will the death of Jesus tout court. Herbert McCabe: “The mission of Jesus from the Father is not the mission to be crucified; what the Father wished is that Jesus should be human…. [T]he fact that to be human means to be crucified is not something that the Father has directly planned but what we have arranged.” That is, the crucifixion of Christ is not a penalty inflicted by God but the result of human sin, what inevitably happens when human sin encounters divine love. The cross, therefore, represents the wrath and judgement of God not directly but indirectly: God “gives us up” (παρέδωκεν, Romans 1:24, 26, 28) to the consequences of our destructive desires and actions, the human condition with which Christ identified himself in life, and to which God “gave him up” (παρέδωκεν, Romans 8:32), and to which we (with Judas) “betrayed”/“handed him over” (παρέδωκεν, Mark 3:19), in death.”

It made me think about Enoch’s dialogue with God in the Book of Moses Chapter 7

32 The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;

33 And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood;

34 And the fire of mine indignation is kindled against them; and in my hot displeasure will I send in the floods upon them, for my fierce anger is kindled against them.

35 Behold, I am God; Man of Holiness is my name; Man of Counsel is my name; and Endless and Eternal is my name, also.

36 Wherefore, I can stretch forth mine hands and hold all the creations which I have made; and mine eye can pierce them also, and among all the workmanship of mine hands there has not been so great wickedness as among thy brethren.

37 But behold, their sins shall be upon the heads of their fathers; Satan shall be their father, and misery shall be their doom; and the whole heavens shall weep over them, even all the workmanship of mine hands; wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?

38 But behold, these which thine eyes are upon shall perish in the floods; and behold, I will shut them up; a prison have I prepared for them.

39 And That which I have chosen hath pled before my face. Wherefore, he suffereth for their sins; inasmuch as they will repent in the day that my Chosen shall return unto me, and until that day they shall be in torment;

40 Wherefore, for this shall the heavens weep, yea, and all the workmanship of mine hands.

41 And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto Enoch, and told Enoch all the doings of the children of men; wherefore Enoch knew, and looked upon their wickedness, and their misery, and wept and stretched forth his arms, and his heart swelled wide as eternity; and his bowels yearned; and all eternity shook.

Aside from being one of the more striking and beautiful passages in all of scripture, this passage raises some interesting theological questions.

In particular  verse 36 suggests that we are the most disobedient of all of Gods creations

36 Wherefore, I can stretch forth mine hands and hold all the creations which I have made; and mine eye can pierce them also, and among all the workmanship of mine hands there has not been so great wickedness as among thy brethren.

Indeed, all of the other beings that we are aware of on this earth obey the word of god perfectly. We are the only beings we know of that ever disobey or go against the will of the Lord. Our divine agency is a major factor, but this passage suggests that agency and obedience can go together and have gone together better elsewhere.

Notice the language in line 39

39 And That which I have chosen hath pled before my face. Wherefore, he suffereth for their sins; inasmuch as they will repent in the day that my Chosen shall return unto me, and until that day they shall be in torment;

We are disobedient and deserve death but plead before God for forgiveness THEREFORE Christ suffereth for our sins.  In other words, Christ suffers because of the horrid state of man. We are the ones that mandate that he suffers.

This led me to speculate about the other planets where God has given agency to intelligent beings. Are we the only planet that has sunk so low as to crucify its redeemer? Is it possible that other planets did not require a divine redeemer in the same sense that we do? If we believe that As Man is God once was, does this imply that God once led a sinful life and required the redemption of another being, or can we think that God likely led a perfect mortal life and therefore did not require redemption.

Ultimately, the lesson I take away most strongly from this passage is that even as the atonement is a needed part of our redemption, the torture and pain Christ underwent was not inevitable but contingent. If human beings had acted more humbly or lovingly, might Christ not have lived a full long life and organized his church in the same way that he did after the resurrection among the Nephites? I have faith that had he not been placed on the cross, Christ would have found another way to redeem mankind. Heavenly father is not a vengeful being with a bloodlust. Christ’s martyrdom was necessary because of our wickedness, but our wickedness was neither inevitable nor desirable

What are the implications for our day to day life? What I take away at the very least is that we should not act as if the inevitability of sin is a reason to look at it with the least bit of tolerance. We need to take more active roles as Latter Day Saints in opposing misery and suffering worldwide. Often, I think we have this mentality that thinks ‘the end of the world is coming soon and therefore there’s not much we can do,” but this notion is contrary to our agency and purpose on this earth. We can spare the world a portion of its suffering and even still reverse the course of misery for untold millions. In my view, it is our duty and privilege to do so as disciples of christ.

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Hearts of the children turned to the parents

I went to the temple with my friend Elena and did the temple work for my mother today. What an incredible experience. I really felt the spirit of God so strongly. As I sat in the temple and prayed, I also felt her presence near. We joined a group of YSA from Worcester though we went first. I was asked to pick a hymn to sing and chose Spirit of God because I think that singing that hymn in the temple is incredibly symbolic and poignant. I felt such incredible peace while the baptism was done in her name. During confirmation, the person reading the name stopped for several seconds seemingly over powered by the spirit. Everyone clearly felt it like a powerful jolt. I knew that she had accepted the ordinance being done in her name and that she had been able to find forgiveness and absolution. My mind in particular turned to the down syndrome child that she chose to abort a few years before I was born. I thought about a time while in a catholic hospital my mom had to cover a crucifix because she could not bare to look at an image of Christ. All of these mistakes and every wasted opportunity were forgiven. The member of the temple presidency gave the group a talk about how the people on the other side of the veil are closer than we think, and I know that to be true. I know that my mother will be working on my father and helping to soften his heart and that’s a great knowledge and feeling.

Principles to Guide our Efforts as Member Missionaries

I was asked to be a team leader at the LDS education conference in Boston, MA this upcoming weekend. There will be over 600 people at the event at which Apostle M. Russell Ballard, Clayton Christensen and Jet Blue founder David Neeleman will be speaking

As a group leader I was asked to look at the principles that are being presented by the speakers and to think of ways to generate discussion within a group of ten.

I want to post a quick initial thought about each of the principles being presented by Clayton Christensen because I think he has pretty powerful thoughts.

1. We cannot predict — nor should we judge from appearance, language, or lifestyle — who, of all the people we might meet, is prepared to learn of the gospel. Only the Lord knows this.

I have found this principles to be far too true even in the limited time that I’ve been in the church. I could have never anticipated some of the powerful spiritual conversations I’ve had with certain friends I never would have imagined having that kind of connection with. I think that one of the best ways to live according this principle is not be ashamed to mention the role that church plays in our life even to people we think might react negatively. Facebook status updates play a great equalizer in our society in this regard. By being able to convey information to everyone at once we are able to open ourselves to conversations from sources we would not have anticipated.

 

2. Transforming our relationships with others into deeper friendships as a means of “preparing” them to receive our invitation is not only unnecessary — it often is deceitful. We can invite friends, neighbors, work associates, classmates, store clerks, and fellow travelers to learn. As long as we do so in an open, straightforward way in which they can feel our love for them, they will not be offended.

Indeed, I think it might be harder at times to share the gospel with very close friends out of fear of offending. I’ve had difficulty with this principle in my life, with some friends feeling like I am just getting closer to them in order to have gospel sharing opportunities. Its important to become friends with people because we value what they give to us and how they impact our lives in positive ways.

3. Most people who live in prosperous circumstances have a deeper need to give service than to receive help. We rarely connect with their needs when we suggest that the gospel will help them become better, happier people. But when we ask them to join with us as we serve others in the kingdom of God, it often fulfills an important need in their lives. Just as we feel the Spirit when serving the Lord, they can too — and some of them will realize that something important has been missing in their lives

This principle is one that I think we need to work on at the ward and stake level. We need more service opportunities that are not internal such as home or visiting teaching. I am currently called as an assistant secretary for the Elder’s Quorum trying to find some service opportunities for the Quorum to do as a whole because I think that service is such a bonding experience internally and an opportunity to reach out to others. While people enjoy being invited to social events, there is a deeper appeal to involving others in something that helps others. Of course, I wonder how this applies to college students since MOST of our friends at least are doing some kind of service already and perhaps more service than I am if I discount church related service and callings.

 

4. People can’t exercise their free agency if we do not give them the opportunity to choose the gospel. We therefore succeed as member missionaries when we invite. Those who we invite succeed when they use their agency to accept the gospel.

 

I’ve been very good at inviting people to come to church activities, not so good at getting them to meet with the missionaries or truly find out more about the church. I am sure there must be a better way to bridge the two. I recognize that for me this requires more asking. I learned this principle in another area in my life. I have been debating for four years now. I used to never have the guts to ask people to debate with me at tournaments and so always got stuck with whomever else had not been asked. This in turn lowered my reputation and made it harder for me in the future. This semester I broke that cycle by becoming much more aggressive in asking people to debate with me and it has led to much improved tournaments.

5. Most people — even those with graduate degrees from the best universities — don’t know how to pray or how to find answers to their questions in the scriptures. If we teach them how to do these things through “homework” assignments, the Holy Ghost and the Book of Mormon will do the “heavy lifting” of conversion.

 

I actually just had an eye opening conversation with a good friend of mine. He is an orthodox Jew that has studied theology and knows an immense amount about God in theory. He approached me with a bit of a crisis of faith moment. We had a lengthy conversation about how to know what is God’s will and what is our own desire imposed on the image of God ( a fascinating topic deserving greater exploration). At the end of the conversation I told him that in my view ultimately it was God that had to tell us these answers through conversation with him. He was a bit shocked by this concept. He told me that he could not ever remember asking God for an answer. He is someone that prays three times a day and often asks God for very specific things, but the notion of turning to God for answers or direction was totally foreign. It was like he had never thought of the possibility.

6. Things get done when we have deadlines. If we commit to God that we will find someone to introduce to the missionaries by a specific date, and if we take the commitment so seriously that we become desperate to find someone, then God knows He can trust us to invite him or her — and He will put someone in our path who will accept our invitation.

This is a principle I can improve on considerably. I know that I’ve found that when we pray for opportunities God gives them to us in abundance. What I have not done as much as I should is pray more specifically to be able to have someone meet the missionaries or to bring someone to the church. My prayers in this regard tend to be overly general and I think this dilutes their effectiveness.

The Vatican and LDS same sex marriage

The Vatican recently announced a policy change in which it would ease the way for those dissatisfied with the more liberal Anglican stance on Gay Marriage and Women in the Priesthood to become Roman Catholic. For instance, an individual baptized into the Anglican church may not have to have a second baptism to become Catholic. More interesting, for a member of the LDS church is the new stance on married priests. One of the biggest differences between Anglicans and Catholics has traditionally been over the issue of priesthood celibacy. Anglican priests can and are married, while Catholics are not allowed to do so. The unique thing about the Vatican decision is that they are now institutionally allowing those priests that have been wed to remain so and still become members and priests in the Catholic church.

This decision got me thinking about how the LDS church could make a similarly pragmatic decision in regard to Gay Marriage. Right now, Missionaries and members face a serious challenge, especially in states where Gay Marriage has been legalized such as Massachusetts. Some gay couples have been together for over 20 or 30 years and have now been happily married for years. If these individuals are taking and believing in the missionaries lessons, they are unlikely to be willing to break off a long term and legally recognized union—and it would be cruel and wrong if it asked them to do so. Do we write these individuals off as lost causes, or can we find some practical way to accommodate them. Could the church allow these individuals to become members of the church while allowing them to remain in their legally sanctioned marriages? Sexuality for a priest is viewed as a rather large transgression in Catholicism quite similar to the way that we view homosexual relations and out of marriage relations. Could we as the Catholics are now doing, forbid the formation of new marriages and unions between same sex members, but recognize those unions that are already formed in order to bring individuals into the church?

Unfortunately, we have a culture where deviations from a very norm are scorned and treated with disregard. There would have to be a cultural change in our congregations to make this a viable option. Yet, it seems to me that there isn’t really a better way to try to reach out to these individuals that are already in long term relationships and marriages, and that to fail to do so is to fail in our duty to spread the gospel to others.

Is this a viable solution? Would the church be compromising on its values if it allowed the recognition of such marriages. Any thoughts?

Casting not away therefore my confidence

Cast Not Therefore Your Confidence Away

Elder Holland’s talk entitled Cast Not Therefore Your Confidence Away is one of my all time favorite talks because it’s scripturally deep as well as spiritually inspired. This week, this talk was incredibly relevant in my life.

I am a senior at Brandeis University and have been debating whether or not to graduate early ( in December) for a while. I originally came up with the idea because of the threat that my father would no longer support me if I were baptized into the church. I needed a way to minimize cost in order to be able to continue to afford studying. When my father moved to approve my decision that was no longer necessary. I suggested to him that I’d considered graduating early, and he actually became an advocate for the idea. I decided that graduating early would help me to get some work and save up some money in order to be able to contemplate serving a mission. A semester would cost 12,000 dollars and while I would not myself be getting all of that savings, having my father saving all of that would be beneficial.  I was very doubtful about my decision and the paper work for December graduation was due this Thursday.

Wednesday night I went to the temple and prayed about it. I often go to the Boston Temple with my questions and invariably leave with much clearer answers than when I came. I don’t even have to go into the temple to do baptisms, just coming and praying outside the temple has that effect on me. This decision had been torturing me for weeks, and on Wed. I got a fairly clear feeling that it was the correct decision. I experienced a pretty great comfort that things would work themselves out well

I put in the papers on Thursday early in the afternoon, and almost immediately got struck by the most severe and intense doubts.  Most frighteningly, I have been trying to be guided by the spirit in this decision and strongly felt what seemed to be spiritual promptings that I’d made a mistake. I literally had to summon the words of Elder Holland’s talk to my mind in order to make sense of it.

“But Moses’ message to you today is, “Don’t let your guard down.” Don’t assume that a great revelation, some marvelous illuminating moment, or the opening of an inspired path is the end of it. Remember, it isn’t over until it’s over. What happened to Moses next, after his revelatory moment, would be ludicrous if it were not so dangerous and so absolutely true to form. In an effort to continue his opposition, in his unfailing effort to get his licks in later if not sooner, Lucifer appeared and shouted in equal portions of anger and petulance after God had revealed himself to the prophet, saying, “Moses, worship me.” But Moses was not having it. He had just seen the real thing, and by comparison this sort of performance was pretty dismal.”

I sat in my car overwhelmed with a sense of anguish. I still had two hours to go ask them to remove my graduation form I thought to myself…It was then that I thought back on what I had felt the night before at the temple. I knew that whatever I felt there would not be deceptive but would be the real thing.

“Like Moses in his vision, there may come after the fact some competing doubts and some confusion, but they will pale when you measure them against the real thing. Remember the real thing. Remember how urgently you have needed help in earlier times and that you got it. The Red Sea will open to the honest seeker of revelation. The adversary does have power to hedge up the way, to marshal Pharaoh’s forces and dog our escape right to the water’s edge, but he can’t produce the real thing. He cannot conquer if we will it otherwise. “Exerting all [our] powers to call upon God,” the light will again come, the darkness will again retreat, the safety will again be sure.

As I waited and prayed, telling the darkness to dissipate from my mind, I was able to recapture the sense of calmness that I’d felt before. I was able to go into my apartment and do other things until it was too late to reconsider and my decision was final. It required an enormous amount of spiritual energy and power to resist the clouds that were hanging over me. I realized that they were certainly inspired by the adversary to confuse and distort my desires.

Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward.

For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.
. . .

. . . If any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. . . .

. . . We are not of them who draw back unto perdition. [Hebrews 10:35–36, 38–39;]

Harry Reid Speaks out against Prop. 8

I am pretty puzzled by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) suddenly outspoken stance against the church led support of Prop 8. Apparently unsolicited, this past weekend while sitting down for an interview about his support of the  equity march on washington, Sen. Reid spoke critically of the church’s involvement.

“Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, is the highest ranking elected official who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He previously has not commented on the flood of Mormon money and volunteers who helped propel Proposition 8 to victory in November.

But three organizers of the past weekend’s National Equality March said Reid brought up the topic during a conversation in his office.

“He said that he thought it was a waste of church resources and good will,” said Derek Washington, a Nevadan who worked as the outreach director for the march. “He said he didn’t think it was appropriate.”

For Sen. Reid there just does not seem to be an upside in speaking out here. He is already in a bitter election campaign which all indicators seem to suggest he will lose. Polls have shown him down by 11 points against opponents that have not even officially announced their candidacy. Nate Silver on Fivethirtyeight.com has his race ranked as the second most likely to change party hands. Moreover, Reid already has received a lot of criticism from church. Moreover, Reid is unlikely to win much support among Nevada’s more progressive individuals due to his stated support for keeping marriage between a man and a woman. I just don’t see the upside in Reid’s actions from a political perspective.

On the other hand, as a matter of principle Reid’s actions in the past couple of weeks shine. His endorsement of the Equity March, advocacy for booted gay Iraq war veteran Dan Choi and his general advocacy for LGBT issues including the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the senate are pretty impressive. Maybe this is what a leader does when he has stopped worrying about reelection and has embraced defeat?  I am proud of Senator Reid for showing the nation that Mormon and Democrat are completely compatible, and that Mormons can passionately come out in favor of gay rights issues. Now, this criticism goes a bit further in actively opposing the decision of the church to enter the fray. I certainly hope that because of his high profile Harry Reid is never punished for his statements, and that he gives courage to others enabling them to speak out on the topic. I have hesitated to speak my own feelings about prop-8 thus far on this blog and do not intend to do so at moment, but I am passionate about the idea that one should not be punished for speaking out in this fashion. I never thought I’d say this, but in this regard Reid stands as a paragon of courage. He is showing true leadership by being vocal on an issue that others wish to keep quiet on. I just wish he’d get some backbone on other issues.

Elder Hales on Secularism Part two of two

This is the second part of a two part post about Elder Hales talk on secularism:  I am going to talk a little bit about the end of Elder Hales talk which I think has a lot of potential but can be improved by a better understanding of what ultimately can be effective.

Elder Hales is better at the end of his talk when he simply invites people listening to : “Cultivate a diligent desire to know that God lives. This desire leads us to ponder on the things of heaven—to let the evidence of God all around us touch our hearts. With softened hearts we are prepared to heed the Savior’s call to “search the scriptures” and to humbly learn from them.”

Ultimately, cultivating this desire to know that God lives is the task of Latter Day Saints and all believers. We must present a belief structure that is interesting, enticing and ultimately something that others wish to be true.

When I was an atheist I believed that my atheism had three pillars. The first was the notion that we can understand the universe without a belief in deity—This pillar still holds as I think that we ultimately have come to the point where arguments from design and natural forces are equally persuadable and that we have to make the choice based on other factors. The second was that the nature of evil in the world made it more likely that a loving god did not exist ( Theodicy). The third was that belief in God actually caused more ill than god in the world and so I would rather that God did not exist.

It is not the first pillar that we should be attacking. The problem with Christianity is that it has been too concerned with trying to prove itself on the basis of evidence for creation. Karen Armstrong illustrates this point beautifully in her book “The Case for God.” Instead, what led me to believe again and what I think ultimately is most effective in getting people to seek God with humble hearts is to show them that faith in God can and does make people ultimately better, and that this world is consistent with a loving a merciful deity. Ultimately, the examples of scripture show that what is most vital in the search for God is a true desire to know that he is and that he lives. Arguments from design can at best lead to agnosticism and more and more often lead to atheism altogether. The more we understand about the natural world the less effective such tactics are and the more God becomes a God of the gaps.

“Gaining this knowledge is ultimately the quest of all God’s children on the earth. If you cannot remember believing in God or if you have ceased to believe or if you believe but without real conviction, I invite you to seek a testimony of God now. Do not be afraid of ridicule. The strength and peace that come from knowing God and having the comforting companionship of His Spirit will make your efforts eternally worthwhile.”

I think that this is a promising bit on enticement to prayer sincerely. Yet, Elder Hales does not seem to understand that the chief problem of those that do not believe is not that they are afraid of ridicule. Indeed, living in America means that one is more likely to be ridiculed for a lack of faith than faith. Instead, it is an inability to see how such language can be anything other than subjective. I think that there is a real need to emphasize why we believe that such prayer works.

Ultimately, a loving deity would want to communicate with his children in a way that cuts across language barriers and knowledge barriers alike. One should not require a theology degree or a PHD in astrophysics in order to be able to commune with deity. Prayer is thus a simple language that we can all cultivate regardless of our language of birth or our standing. For me, prayer is a great equalizer of all men before God. That is why I seek spiritual insight and tend to believe what I receive with all of my heart and soul. It is precisely the way that a deity that is no respecter of persons would communicate with us.

Elder Hales talk is ultimately a bit misguided. He does not seem to understand what leads people to lose faith or how to reach out to people in language that is inviting rather than shunning or antagonistic. I hope that our general authorities or the rising generation in the church learn to become better equipped in ways to more effectively reach out to those in doubt.