Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Doctrinal Questions from the Youth (cont.)

The Doctrine of The Divine Sonship:

Was God [the Father] a Savior in another life or world?

Not necessarily, although it is possible. This question arises out of comments that Joseph Smith made at the funeral of King Follett. In the sermon, the Prophet describes how God became God. In part he said, “It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another, and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did. . . Here then, is eternal life – to know the only wise and true God; and you have to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have before you, namely by going from one small degree to another. . . What did Jesus do? Why; I do the things I saw my Father do when worlds came rolling into existence. My Father worked out his kingdom with fear and trembling, and I must do the same; and when I get my kingdom, I shall present it to my Father, so that he may obtain kingdom upon kingdom, and it will exalt him in glory. He will then take a higher exaltation, and I will take his place, and thereby become exalted myself. So that Jesus treads in the tracks of his Father, and inherits what God did before; and God is thus glorified and exalted in the salvation and exaltation of all his children.” (TPJS, 346-8).

Christ was the firstborn spirit son, the “Great Prototype” of salvation in the Lectures on Faith. As firstborn, he was entitled to the office of Messiah in this mortal existence. However, Elohim was not necessarily also a firstborn son in his own pre-mortal existence. God became a God upon the same requirements of the gospel that have been revealed to us, which does not include the necessity of being a Savior first.

In our day and age we’re always being told not to have any children before we are married. So why did God have Mary have a child when she wasn’t married? Why did Heavenly Father send Jesus to Mary?

Nephi sees a vision, the same one his Father Lehi had received, and the Savior, then an angel, give him the interpretation thereof. It’s obvious that we have only a part of that sacred conversation, but enough to be helpful:

And it came to pass that I looked and beheld the great city of Jerusalem, and also other cities. And I beheld the city of Nazareth [this is where she was living when Gabriel, who was Noah, appeared and announced that she would conceive a child]; and in the city of Nazareth I beheld a virgin, and she was exceedingly fair and white. [She was about 14 years old.]
And it came to pass that I saw the heavens open; and an angel came down and stood before me; and he said unto me: Nephi, what beholdest thou?
And I said unto him: A virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins.
And he said unto me: Knowest thou the condescension of God? [“Condescension” is a million dollar word, but simply means that the Father was agreeing as a resurrected and celestial God to do something on a mortal level – to prepare a physical body with a mortal mother for his firstborn spirit son, known as Jehovah in the pre-mortal pre-existence].
And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.
And he said unto me: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh. [These are key words, because they reveal that there is something physical, and very mortal going on here.]
And it came to pass that I beheld that she was carried away in the Spirit; [this is where the account is abbreviated for obvious reasons – we don’t talk in polite company about how babies are made] and after she had been carried away in the Spirit for the space of a time the angel spake unto me, saying: Look!
And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms [nine months went by, and the next thing you know Nephi is shown the babe lying in his mother’s arms in the manger in Bethlehem].
And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! [That’s a very specific and literal statement – this babe born of a virgin in Bethlehem is literally the very Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.] Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?
And I answered him, saying: Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things.
And he spake unto me, saying: Yea, and the most joyous to the soul.
And after he had said these words, he said unto me: Look! And I looked, and I beheld the Son of God going forth among the children of men; and I saw many fall down at his feet and worship him. (1 Nephi 11:13-24).

Jesus Christ is identified in all standard works of scripture used by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as "the Only Begotten Son of God" (Jacob 4:11; D&C 49:5; Moses 1:6; John 3:16). In a classic sermon delivered by President Joseph F. Smith at the Box Elder Stake conference of December 20, 1914, as recorded in the Box Elder News of January 28, 1915, the following inspired insights were given:

"How are children begotten? I answer just as Jesus Christ was begotten of his Father. . . Just as the infidel was begotten and born, so was Christ begotten by his Father. . . We want to try to make it appear that God does not do things in the right way, or that he has another way of doing things than what we know; we must come down to the simple fact that God Almighty was the Father of His Son Jesus Christ. Mary, the virgin girl, who had never known mortal man, was his mother. God by her begot His son Jesus Christ, and He was born into the world with power and intelligence like that of His Father."

Elder James E. Talmage has written:

"That Child to be born of Mary was begotten of Elohim, the Eternal Father, not in violation of natural law but in accordance with a higher manifestation thereof; and the offspring from that association of supreme sanctity, celestial Sireship, and pure though mortal maternity, was of right to be called the 'Son of the Highest'" (Talmage, Jesus the Christ, 81).

According to President Smith, "Mary was married to Joseph for time. No man could take her for eternity because she belonged to the Father of her divine Son." (Box Elder News, Jan. 28, 1915).

Was Jesus Christ married?

Yes, in my opinion. There are many in the Church who dodge answering that question, and perhaps I would be wise to do the same.  However, though the scriptural record contains few details, it would seem obvious that if Christ were baptized to “fulfill all righteousness” (see Matthew 3:13-17), then would not this same logic apply to other gospel ordinances including marriage? Much has been written justifying both points of view – that he was married and that he wasn’t.

I believe the clearest statement on the topic was made by the Prophet Joseph Smith. He said, “If a man gets the fullness of the priesthood of God he has to get it in the same way that Jesus Christ obtained it; and that was by keeping all the commandments and obeying all the ordinances of the house of the Lord.” (TPJS, 308).

Anyone who has been to the temple should be familiar with the ordinances of the Lord’s house – they all point to marriage in the new and everlasting covenant.

The Doctrine of Repentance:

If you can repent in the after life, why be good?

There is no provision for a second chance at “being good” if celestial glory is your aim. I think Alma gave the best answer to this question:

And now, my brethren, I wish from the inmost part of my heart, yea, with great anxiety even unto pain, that ye would hearken unto my words, and cast off your sins, and not procrastinate the day of your repentance;
But that ye would humble yourselves before the Lord, and call on his holy name, and watch and pray continually, that ye may not be tempted above that which ye can bear, and thus be led by the Holy Spirit, becoming humble, meek, submissive, patient, full of love and all long-suffering;
Having faith on the Lord; having a hope that ye shall receive eternal life; having the love of God always in your hearts, that ye may be lifted up at the last day and enter into his rest.
And may the Lord grant unto you repentance, that ye may not bring down his wrath upon you, that ye may not be bound down by the chains of hell, that ye may not suffer the second death. (Alma 13:27-30).

Later, Amulek said essentially the same thing as Alma:

For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.
And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.
Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis [meaning death], that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world.
For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked. (Alma 34:32-35).

For those of us who have entered into the new and everlasting covenant of the gospel in this life, we are required to repent here and now, not there and later on. For that reason, we partake of the sacrament each week. The gospel plan will be preached in the spirit world only to those who have never had it nor heard of it, or when they heard of it in mortality they rejected it. “And also they who are the spirits of men kept in prison, whom the Son visited, and preached the gospel unto them, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh; who received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it.” (D&C 76:73-74).

These verses describe those who inherit the terrestrial kingdom. Christ wasn’t mincing words when he appeared among the Nephites. He was plain-spoken, and his doctrine is what he declared it to be in simple words: “And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God. And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned. Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and I bear record of it from the Father; and whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost.” (3 Nephi 11:33-35).

Will it be easier to accept the gospel after this life?

Alma didn’t think so when he was counseling his son, Corianton, who had strayed from the gospel. He was worried that Corianton was being casual in his gospel commitment. So he pled with him to repent and reasoned with him this way:

If he has desired to do evil, and has not repented in his days, behold, evil shall be done unto him, according to the restoration of God. And now, my son, I desire that ye should let these things trouble you no more, and only let your sins trouble you, with that trouble which shall bring you down unto repentance. Oh, my son, I desire that ye should deny the justice of God no more. Do not endeavor to excuse yourself in the least point because of your sins, by denying the justice of God; but do you let the justice of God and his mercy, and his long-suffering have full sway in your heart; and let it bring you down in the dust in humility. (Alma 42:28-30).

And it isn’t easier according to Elder Melvin J. Ballard, who said:

But this life is the time in which men are to repent. Do not let any of us imagine that we can go down to the grave not having overcome the corruptions of the flesh and then lose in the grave all our sins and evil tendencies. They will be with us. They will be with the spirit when separated from the body. The spirit only can repent and change, and then the battle has to go forward with the flesh afterwards. It is much easier to overcome and serve the Lord when both flesh and spirit are combined as one. . . Every man and woman who is putting off until the next life the task of correcting and overcoming the weakness of the flesh are sentencing themselves to years of bondage, for no man or woman will come forth in the resurrection until they have completed their work, until they have overcome, until they have done as much as they can do. ("The Three Degrees of Glory," sermon delivered in Ogden, Utah, on 22 September 1922).

Note that Elder Ballard says "no man or woman will come forth in the resurrection, UNTIL they have completed their work [of repentance]."  This is an important doctrine.  In his supreme mercy for us, it is apparent that Heavenly Father will delay our resurrection UNTIL we have had every chance to conform to the commandments and humble ourselves to accept the atonement. 

I suggest most will repent and accept Christ as their Savior, given enough time in the spirit world.  But the obvious rule would be this:  It is better to repent here and now than there and later.

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