Friday, December 2, 2011

A God Who Doesn't Know Everything

This morning I was remembering a comment of an Apostle, who said to me in the middle of a conversation about the future, "I cannot believe in a God who doesn't know everything."

This morning en route to something else, I stumbled over a letter I wrote some years ago to two sons serving as missionaries, one in Canada, the other in Brazil. It's worth repeating here:

January 28, 2001

I have been studying in depth this week – the lesson I did not give today – about the foreknowledge of God.  This is a concept that blows the minds of most members of the Church, but it is absolutely essential we understand its importance and day-to-day significance in our lives.

It seems we can accept without reservation the proposition the Lord knew in advance wicked men in the last days would seek to thwart Joseph’s translation of The Book of Mormon. Because of His foreknowledge of those events, and how those men would exercise their moral agency unrighteously, provision was made by an all-knowing God to have Nephi prepare a second set of records. He also knew enough about Nephi and Joseph to know in the exercise of their agency truth would triumph. God’s desire to bring His words through living prophets to their descendants in the last days would be successful.

“The works, and the designs, and the purposes of God cannot be frustrated, neither can they come to naught. . .”  (D&C 3: 1).

God knew in advance about the Flood, and Noah was obedient to the revelations to build an ark on dry ground. God knows where the world is headed today – that people in the Church and the world at large are filled with darkened minds because of unbelief and vanity. (See D&C 84:54-56). “Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments. . .” (D&C 1:17).

All this is true, and we accept it because it is true. When it comes to our own lives, however, it seems we have trouble connecting the dots. He knows you, Rich. He knows you, Joe. There isn’t anything about your missions and their outcomes that He does not know before you even think about what comes next. Because He knows.

Ask yourself: If I am God and I have created spirit children, how many should I create if I don’t know how big to make the world on which they will dwell? Extending that reasoning forward, if I do not know in advance how many of my children will be heirs of the celestial kingdom, then how shall I make provision for the place in time and space that they will someday occupy? Shall I arrange their lives, pull each and every string, or does my knowing their future choices impede them in any way? These are but a few of the questions that this line of reasoning will take you down, but it is an underlying and integral piece of the truth of our existence.

Let me take you on a short scriptural journey to underscore His knowing, then we’ll discuss the implications and how His knowing intersects with our doing. Relax, this isn’t fatalism, and it’s certainly not predestination, as the conventional wisdom of Calvin and Luther would have it.

We must each exercise our moral agency in this life. God is not on trial in our lives – we are. There isn’t anything you can do to prove yourself “worthy” to God (remember, remember – always and forever – “worthy” equates to repenting).

We had a lesson this morning on “qualifying” for the gift of the Holy Ghost in our lives. And the instructor (who shall remain nameless) never, not once, in the course of the lesson even mentioned repentance as the one and only qualifier for obtaining and keeping the Spirit in our lives to guide us. Last time I checked (and I do that frequently these days) the scriptures are replete (meaning they are full to overflowing) with references about the only thing we must do to be “worthy” of the Spirit in our lives is to repent and come unto Christ.  We are promised He will fill us up with His Spirit if we repent. But that’s a story for another day.

God already knows you and all your choices, because He created you. There should be great comfort in this idea, but it seems to cause more angst than joy. It should not be so. Come with me, and we shall learn together:

 But behold, all things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things.  (2 Nephi 2:24).

O how great the holiness of our God!  For he knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows it.  (2 Nephi 9:20).

And this I do [meaning, Mormon is including the small plates of Nephi in the record he is abridging] for a wise purpose; for thus it whispereth me, [notice, only the whisperings of the Spirit at work here – no open visions of the future] according to the workings of the Spirit of the Lord which is in me.  And now, I do not know all things; but the Lord knoweth all things which are to come; wherefore, he worketh in me to do according to his will.  (Words of Mormon 1:7).

And when the time cometh when all shall rise, then shall they know that God knoweth all the times which are appointed unto man [meaning that God even knows the exact moment in time that we will each depart this mortal probation, since this chapter is all about Alma’s teachings on the resurrection].  (Alma 40:10).

And if there be faults [in the writings contained in The Book of Mormon] they are the faults of a man.  But behold, we know no fault; nevertheless God knoweth all things; therefore, he that condemneth, let him be aware lest he shall be in danger of hell fire.  (Mormon 8:17).

By these things [the preceding verses in section 20] we know that there is a God in heaven, who is infinite and eternal, from everlasting to everlasting the same unchangeable God, the framer of heaven and earth, and all things which are in them; 
And that he created man, male and female, after his own image and in his own likeness, created he them. . .  (D&C 20:17-18).

Thus saith the Lord your God, even Jesus Christ, the Great I AM, Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the same which looked upon the wide expanse of eternity, and all the seraphic hosts of heaven, before the world was made;
The same which knoweth all things, for all things are present before mine eyes.  (D&C 38:2).

He comprehendeth all things, and all things are before him, and all things are round about him; and he is above all things, and in all things, and is through all things, and is round about all things; and all things are by him, and of him, even God, forever and ever.  (D&C 88:41 – also read vs. 5-13).

And I have a work for thee, Moses [or you could say, Joe or Rich], my son; and thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten; and mine Only Begotten is an shall be the Savior, for he is full of grace and truth; but there is no God beside me, and all things are present with me, for I know them [antecedent of “them” is “all things”]. (Moses 1:6).

But they [angels] do not reside on a planet like this earth;
But they reside in the presence of God, on a globe like a sea of glass and fire, where all things for their glory are manifest, past, present, and future, and are continually before the Lord.  (D&C 130:7).  [Meaning that time simply collapses for God – there is no past, present, future – it is all the same for him – everything is in the present tense, and that’s how he is enabled to know all things.  And it’s just that simple.]

So what are the implications of these things on our lives here and now? Simply, that God knows the end from the beginning. He knows what will happen, what choices we will make, who we will marry, how many children we will have, where we will live, whether or not we will be faithful, how we will rebel, how we will repent, when, where, who, what – everything. None of it is shrouded in mystery for Him. He knows.

But here is the key element - His knowing does not alter our doing, except to give us perspective. Knowing what we know about His knowing should give us a beacon. If we know He knows, if we know that nothing is hidden, that He even knows the thoughts and the intents of our hearts before we act in any manner, would not our knowing help us want to please Him and to do what He would have us do?

The key is to willingly submit to His good pleasure – to offer ourselves as an offering, all that we are or ever hope to be – to simply say, “Lord, what would thou have me do?” It is the willful surrender of ourselves. As Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said, it is sacrificing the beast within each of us each day on the altar of consecration. He will neither pull our chain, yank on our strings, coerce us in any way to choose. He offers a choice. The choice is what Christ vouched safe to us in His atonement.

We must choose, then He will bless our choices if they are righteous desires. When we ask Him about the things He is interested in – how we can bless others, where He would have us look for lost souls, how we can serve, whom shall we serve – and similar questions, we are led and directed. He does and will intercede in our lives and the lives of those we serve. But it is all based upon our doing, and never altered by His knowing.

Is that so hard? When we ask to consume our asking upon our lusts, or when we ask for signs first before we will believe and exercise our faith, the heavens are as brass over our heads. Those are the active principles of sacrifice and consecration – the very essence of the covenants we make in the temple.

And, oh by the way, I learned yet again in sacrament meeting today that we are not yet to live the law of consecration, that we are to live the lesser law of tithing until some as yet unidentified event or circumstance in the future will once again usher in the law of consecration.

Well, phooey. The vast majority of the members of the Church have not yet learned this one lesson - that the law of consecration is different than the practice or the policy to implement it through the united order. It is not the current practice or policy of the Church in these last days to live the united order, but will someone please tell me how and when and where the law of consecration was rescinded?

Salt Lake Temple
It was not. In fact, each time we go to sacred places, we covenant before God, angels and witnesses that we will observe and keep the law of consecration in connection with the law of sacrifice. It is explained in simple terms - that we covenant to consecrate ourselves, and everything else for the cause of the establishment of Zion.

That sounds pretty precise to me, and there are no qualifiers in the words of the covenant that put the covenant in suspension until the practice of the Church returns to some new iteration of the united order. Do not be deceived. After all that Joseph learned about the united order, and all that Brigham Young attempted to implement concerning it, I doubt we are going to suddenly start living it again. It is here and now as an everlasting law, and it is the law of the celestial kingdom.

Those who would have a place in that kingdom must abide the same. It is for each of us to learn for ourselves what God would have us know in how to implement the law into our own individual lives. Indeed, we are promised that “the Father teacheth him of the covenant. . .” (D&C 84:48), speaking of the oath and the covenant of the priesthood, which is only another example of widely misunderstood doctrines in these last days.

It was the Savior who taught this principle best. I love the comparative differences and similarities in the JST accounts:

Break not my commandments for to save your lives; for whosoever will save his life in this world, shall lose it in the world to come.
And whosoever will lose his life in this world, for my sake, shall find it in the world to come.
Therefore, forsake the world, and save your souls; for what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?  Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?  (JST Matthew 16:27-29).
For whosoever will save his life, shall lose it; or whosoever will save his life, shall be willing to lay it down for my sake; and if he is not willing to lay it down for my sake, he shall lose it.
But whosoever shall be willing to lose his life for my sake, and the gospel, the same shall save it.  (JST Mark 8:37-38).
For whosoever will save his life, must be willing to lose it for my sake; and whosoever will be willing to lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.
For what doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and yet he receive him not whom God hath ordained [that would be Christ], and he lose his own soul, and he himself be a castaway?  (JST Luke 9:24-25).

Each rendition of those verses, while slightly different, contains the same enigmatic and seemingly impossible saying – to gain your eternal life, you must be willing sacrifice for my sake while in your mortal probation. Father really does know best. The message for missionaries is simple – give it all up for my kingdom in this world, invest in faith and I will sustain you in whatever righteous desires you may have. There is never going to be a time when life will be as simple, as concentrated, as consecrated, and as Spirit-directed as your time in the mission field, and you have both seen the witness of that truth again and again.

Along those lines, I thought about Steve and the thoughts he shared with me recently about how he has only now had time to write about his experiences of the last year. I remember him sobbing in my arms only hours after his return from his mission in Mexico. He longed to be free from the contradictions, the challenges and the world into which he had been thrust upon his release from his mission. He was so immediately caught up in the need for a car, for employment, for school, and wonderment about his future prospects in marriage, that whatever respite from the cares of the world he had enjoyed while serving a mission quickly vanished. It took him a year to even get his journal caught up! And so it is – treasure each moment, for they are fleeting. How I wish I could impress that truth upon each missionary when I hear your stories about wasted time and energies spent on trivial pursuits in the mission field among some of your acquaintances.

Now, Rich, I said most of this for your benefit. There will never be a time of greater temptation for you. I know you find that hard to believe, but Satan would like nothing more than to discredit all that you have done up to this point in your mission. We have seen this in the cases of some of your friends who have returned. Your position in the mission does little to insulate you from danger. You must be ever watchful. You still have much to do before you hit the finish line. Hit the tape running full stride. Don’t let up. Give it renewed determination, renewed Spirit, renewed enthusiasm for the work, and rededicate yourself to the goals and the programs of the President.

Do all you can in these remaining months to lift and to inspire those around you. Help them to catch the vision, to serve with an eye single to His glory, and to never look back. Just as you were once the young one in the field, now others will look to you as never before for an example of how to do it the right way. Once again, you are in a position of rare trust and accountability. Cherish these remaining days. Too soon, they will all be gone, and you will be homeward bound.

The goal is to sit in that plane seat contented and satisfied that you did all, that you sacrificed your all, that you withheld nothing in the service that still awaits you. And that, good son, is peace and joy unlike anything there is.


  1. I really liked this article. I noticed you spoke of the oath and covenant of the priesthood being a misunderstood doctrine. That makes sense to me because when i received the priesthood i remember no incident in where i made an oath and covenant. Do you have any other blogs where you explain your view in depth?

  2. Check this link, then do a word search on "oath and covenant" for other references to the doctrine:

    The key element is we live the fulness of the new and everlasting covenant of marriage, and in return God swears an oath by His own name (because there is none greater) that we shall have eternal life. However, the doctrine is rarely taught in the Church, and if taught at all it is mangled badly by those who attempt it. Elder Bruce R. McConkie's writings are sprinkled liberally with the correct teachings under this topic.