Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Doctrinal Questions from the Youth III

Questions from the Youth III

March 30, 2008


Always remember that the best answers to gospel doctrine questions come from the scriptures – the four “standard works” – The Bible, The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price. I also prefer The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, compiled by Joseph Fielding Smith.

The next best source is from the writings and sermons of the subsequent Presidents of the Church. All other sources, while they might be enlightening, should only serve to confirm the answers you have obtained from these primary sources. Brigham Young once taught, “Study the word of God, and preach it and not your opinions, for no man’s opinion is worth a straw. Advance no principle but what you can prove, for one scriptural proof is worth ten thousand opinions.” (History of the Church, vol. 3, 395-96).

Life Hereafter:

We know that those who don’t accept Jesus Christ as their Savior will have to suffer for their own sins. Once they have paid for their sins, what happens to them?

This is an interesting question because no one who repents ever really “pays” for their own sins. That they will have to “suffer” if they fail to repent is correct (see D&C 19:16-21). But for all it is the same whether soon or late, in this life or the next, the key that unlocks the pain and suffering of the individual is repentance that follows faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His perfect atonement. Christ in His infinite and eternal atonement, according to Amulek in The Book of Mormon, is the only one who could possibly have paid for sins. Speaking of this "great and last sacrifice," he says, it could not be "a human sacrifice; but it must be an infinite and eternal sacrifice. Now there is not any man that can sacrifice his own blood which will atone for the sins of another." (Alma 34:10-11). Man cannot resurrect himself; man cannot save himself; human power cannot save another; human power cannot atone for the sins of another. The work of redemption must be infinite and eternal; it must be done by an infinite being; God himself must atone for the sins of the world.

Because Jesus was the Son of God and had divine power, he was able to say: "I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. I lay down my life for the sheep." The atonement was a voluntary act on his part; he had power to live or to die — the choice was his. "Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father." (John 10:11-18). It is written elsewhere in John: "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved." (John 3:16-17).

As to the final state of the repentant soul, it can be summed up nicely in these two verses: “. . .mercy claimeth the penitent, and mercy cometh because of the atonement; and the atonement bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead; and the resurrection of the dead bringeth back men into the presence of God; and thus they are restored into his presence, to be judged according to their works, according to the law and justice. For behold, justice exerciseth all his demands, and also mercy claimeth all which is her own; and thus, none but the truly penitent are saved.” (Alma 42:23-24).

Why don’t people when they die automatically know that Christ is the Savior and accept Him?

The clearest answer is the one given by Amulek again: “. . .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. . . 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.” (Alma 34:32; 34). We do not suddenly become something on the other side of the veil that we are not on this side of the veil. That is why repentance is such a vital key to our eternal salvation. It’s always better to repent here and now than then and there.

What are we going to do in the hereafter?

In the “hereafter” there are two major steps: First, the spirit world where we learn most of what we know from Alma, who received his answers from an angel (see Alma 40 – 42). In the spirit world there is “a space betwixt the time of death and the time of the resurrection.” (Alma 40:6). In verses 11–14 of chapter 40 he describes the righteous and wicked spirits and says the righteous are “in a state of happiness” (see verse 12).

In The Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord reveals the fundamental principles that will be in force, but withholds the specific details of what we will be doing. The best answer to that question is in D&C 130:2: “That same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy.” The word “sociality” means how we interact with one another. The family unit will continue into eternity if we live the covenants associated with it that we receive in the temple.

In the same revelation the Lord teaches: "Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come." (See verses 18 - 19).

We gain further insight into the spirit world through the revelation that came to President Joseph F. Smith, now canonized as scripture in D&C 138. We learn that those who were righteous during their mortal lives are organized in the spirit world to teach those spirits who did not receive the gospel during their mortal lives. (See D&C 138:29-37).

Of course, the resurrection is the second major step after the spirit world. It is interesting to note that perhaps the most vivid descriptions of life hereafter occur in D&C 76:50-70 when the Lord revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon what life is like in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom. So what will we actually be doing in the hereafter? The short answer utilizes words like progressing, learning, growing and expanding to become like our Father in Heaven.

Elder John A. Widtsoe, an Apostle many years ago and one of the Church’s truly great “thinkers” also wrote: "There are those who will protest that there is no growth in heaven. In firm answer, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints asserts that the power of increase or growth is a necessary quality of intelligence. If intelligence remains with us in the hereafter, the power of growth will continue also.

"We can now understand more clearly the real, the ultimate object of life. Growth or progress may be unending. Every onward step, ever so small, is another approach to the ideal of perfection. God is perfect. Therefore, eternally progressing man is ever approaching the likeness of God; ever on the way to perfection. That is the objective of life, here and hereafter, — to approach, eternally, the likeness of our Father in Heaven, on earth, and in the hereafter." (Widtsoe, Understandable Religion, 38).

A strong advocate of the way we will be progressing through eternal increase of our posterity in the resurrection was President Joseph Fielding Smith, who taught:

"Do you not see that it is in this manner that our Eternal Father is progressing? Not by seeking knowledge which he does not have, for such a thought cannot be maintained in the light of scripture. It is not through ignorance and learning hidden truths that he progresses, for if there are truths which he does not know, then these things are greater than he, and this cannot be. Why can't we learn wisdom and believe what the Lord has revealed? . . .

"It is not because the Lord is ignorant of law and truth that he is able to progress, but because of his knowledge and wisdom. The Lord is constantly using his knowledge in his work, and his great work is in bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. By the creation of worlds and peopling them, by building and extending, he progresses, but not because the fulness of truth is not understood by him." (Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 1:7, 10).

In the hereafter will we be given the answers to the secrets of the universe, and will we meet all the people and regain memories, and will there be food?

We have this glimpse of the scope of our knowledge when we dwell in the celestial kingdom from D&C 130:9-11: “This earth in its sanctified and immortal state, will be made like unto crystal and will be a Urim and Thummim to the inhabitants who dwell thereon, whereby all things pertaining to an inferior kingdom, or all kingdoms of a lower order, will be manifest to those who dwell on it; and this earth will be Christ’s. Then the white stone mentioned in Revelation 2:17, will become a Urim and Thummim to each individual who receives one, whereby things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms will be made known; And a white stone is given to each of those who come into the celestial kingdom, whereon is a new name written, which no man knoweth save he that receiveth it. The new name is the key word.” Sounds like “the secrets of the universe” to me!

We also learn in D&C 77:6 that we will receive the contents of a “little book” John saw in his Revelation that contains “the revealed will, mysteries, and the works of God; the hidden things of his economy concerning this earth during the seven thousand years of its continuance, or its temporal existence.”

Perhaps more important than what we may someday know in the life hereafter, however, are the current promises in the here and now if we are faithful. The Holy Ghost is the revealer of truth. In The Book of Mormon at the end of Nephi’s record, he says: “. . .if ye will enter in by the way [baptism] and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.” (2 Nephi 32:5).

Early in his work of the Restoration, the Prophet Joseph received this promise: “. . .put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good -- yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit. Verily, verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy; and then shall ye know, or by this shall you know, all things whatsoever you desire of me, which are pertaining unto things of righteousness, in faith believing in me that you shall receive.” (D&C 11:12-14).

The two keys given in this revelation by which we are to know all things center in the mind and the soul. The mind is to be enlightened, and the soul is to be filled with joy. Light and joy are how we chart our course in mortality. Moroni concluded The Book of Mormon with a promise like this. The honest truth seeker who reads The Book of Mormon could know the truth of all things by the power of the Holy Ghost (see Moroni 10:5). This is not a promise that the seeker can know all things immediately in this life or that all truth will be revealed here and now, but that he or she can discern all matters pertaining unto things of righteousness as we chart our course leading to life in the celestial kingdom hereafter.

As for food, there is little dispute about resurrected beings who are able to eat, the Savior Himself being the best example after His resurrection (see John 21:13-15). But as a routine matter in the resurrection, the need for food to sustain a resurrected body appears nowhere in holy writ.

Will we look like ourselves in the hereafter?

Yes. We will come forth in the resurrection, according to Alma, in our “proper and perfect frame.” He tells us “every limb and joint shall be restored to its body; yea, even a hair of the head shall not be lost.” (See Alma 40:23). If that is true, we will certainly recognize others we have known and loved here in the hereafter.

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