Thursday, February 28, 2008

Bound on Earth, Bound in Heaven

I was reading a blog post a short while ago, and thought a very interesting question was raised: the difference between marriage and sealing. I thought I'd do a bit of study on the topic. This is by no means complete, and I welcome any thoughts on the subject.

In the scriptures, I noted two kinds of binding: binding in captivity and binding for eternity, otherwise known as sealing. Although the first is undeniably restrictive, the second type of binding possesses the ironic twist in meaning that is found so often in scripture and doctrine, namely, that binding can actually lead to freedom, such as when men are bound to uphold laws. This type of binding, even the Lord God is subject to. In a way, this is not an intuitive concept for mankind, mortal and limited as we are. In another way, it is almost instinctual. Even a small child learns that when they obey the rules parents set, they are given more freedom. It is additionally obvious that in order to create a society, a people must be able to set boundaries on themselves. Otherwise, there is anarchy and no promise of protection.

Sealing is a type of binding. The interesting thing is, although the term in modern days is used almost solely in relation to spousal sealing, and, as a corollary, child-to-parent sealing, the term was not originally so restrictive. The Bible speaks often of sealing as we would speak of a government seal, a way to confirm the authenticity of a bargain. The Doctrine & Covenants uses the term "record" as a synonym of "seal".

To bridge this seeming gap between sealing/recording and sealing/marriage, the most common instances where I found the concepts of "seal" and "marriage" together is in the phrase "sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise". Often, when the Lord first explained the covenant of eternal marriage, this phrase comes into play. Essentially, he says if a marriage is not sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise through one given authority by Christ, that marriage is not valid in the eternities. This sealing of the Holy Spirit is not limited to marriage, however. In fact, the term is more often used in terms of being sealed to salvation. Therefore, all marriages must be sealed, but not all sealing by the Holy Spirit is marriage (or, by association, generational). If you substitute the word "record" in addition to "confirmed" or "authorized", the sealing ordinance becomes a little clearer. The ordinance, much like the ordinance of baptism, is not a guarantee of that sealing, it is a covenant that if you do all involved in that ordinance, you will be sealed to salvation.

So, why is sealing necessary to be saved? Of course, I don't know, though I have some thoughts. In order to explore them, I have to delve back a little further than our current sealing ceremony.

When God covenanted with Abraham, He promised him that He would keep the covenant with all of Abraham's children through Isaac. This covenant, or birthright, followed through Jacob, Joseph, and Ephraim. We learn in several places that the covenant is to bless the people of the earth, but how will they be blessed? A small clue shows us that at least part of that blessing is to share the Gospel, to "push the people together" as it were. The Abrahamic Covenant includes the promise that the Gospel will be brought to the children of Adam through the children of Abraham (and that the children who are brought to the Gospel will become the children of Abraham, sharing in that blessing and responsibility). When you are being "sealed" or "recorded" or "confirmed" in baptism, you are being recorded as part of that covenant.

To push understanding of the sealing a little further, God also made a covenant with Adam that the consequences of his transgression would be swallowed up in a perfect sacrifice. Because there was no way for Adam to take back his transgression (or for us to repair our own transgressions and sins), there needed to be a volunteer to live a perfect life, to feel the sins, sorrows and mistakes of all mankind, and then to die according to the curse of mortality given to Adam, only to break that curse and return to life. He suffered so He could mitigate pain. He died to redeem us from the curse of Adam, to assert His supremacy over that law. This met the law of justice in a way which allowed Him to extend mercy.

The sealing ordinance which occurs between a man and woman is a likeness of the covenants which were made after the Transgression and after the Fall. Essentially, we are accepting the same responsibility for the Fall of Adam, and also accepting the same dependence on a Savior. We take those covenants together, as Adam and Eve did, and thus pass them on to our children, who then may take them if they wish. This binds us into the family of Adam by choice, as well as by birth, and gives us the strength of a conscious exercise of our Agency.

When one member of a couple breaks those bonds, it neither invalidates the covenant the other member made, nor the legacy which is passed on to the children. One person's choice only cuts themselves out of the family of Adam, it cannot cut out another. When we choose to make those covenants, we are allowing the Savior to seal us his, contingent upon our obedience to His law, much like we are protected by the same government and law we promise to keep.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Grieving on Presidents' Day

I wrote this on Presidents' Day and decided to post it. Consider it a bit of a tribute to two wonderful people and to the slightly dysfunctional but fiercely loyal family they left behind.

Today, instead of lazing around home or going shopping for Presidents' Day, I packed my daughter and most of my cleaning supplies into my small Honda and drove to my paternal grandparents' home. My grandfather's wife has retrieved all her things and left the home feeling truly empty. My two uncles and two of my aunts were there. Tensions have been high since my grandfather passed away, but the feeling today was one of industry and nostalgia. My throat caught when I first walked into the house. I thought I had anticipated the feeling of realizing yet again that my grandparents were gone, but I hadn't prepared myself enough. The leftover shell that once housed a living, breathing couple lay stripped of most of its character, but whispering stories still lurked in the corners, waiting to be uncovered with brooms and spic-and-span-soaked rags.

Our main goal was to clear out the kitchen. My father and his siblings had decided to rent the house to a friend of my aunt. All of the dishes, utensils and other detritus that can collect in a kitchen was slated to one of three fates: the garbage, the thrift store or to a room to be picked over by family. I was allowed to take anything in the thrift store pile. I didn't take much, mostly a couple of odds and ends: a set of tongs, a garlic press, an old-fashioned ice cream scoop. Nothing that held any real meaning.

As we sorted through things, we came to a hanging sorter with three pockets labeled "Letters". "Bills". "Misc". In the short time I lived with my grandparents, before I went to college, I helped my grandmother sort her coupons, matching them to the things she wanted to buy. My aunt decided to send it to the thrift store. I quickly scooped it up. To me, it was not junk. My grandmother passed away nearly nine years ago. I miss her.

The family - and by that, I mean my grandparents children - decided that the grandchildren would have no claim on the things left behind. Once the children claimed what they wished, the grandchildren could pick over what was left. There is little to no chance I will have anything else to remember my grandmother by, not until my own parents pass on.

I didn't realize how bittersweet helping to clean my grandmother's house would be. I am a child of the military. Places are not meant to have meaning. Yet, in all the places I moved, I always knew my father's and mother's parents were there. Their houses never really changed. They were anchors in an otherwise drifting life. Now, the house remains, but the anchor is gone. It did not break suddenly. It slowly rusted as my grandmother died, replaced by my grandfather's new wife, and then finally gone when my grandfather joined my grandmother.

My mom's mother recently entered a nursing home. I feel that my grandfather will not be far behind. Their farmhouse is now the last of my anchors. It, too, will soon rust through. Then, I shall be left to find new anchors.

We were visited by a cat. I am allergic to cats, but I love them. This one was small, colored a rusty black and had eyes the color of new pine needles. She was dusty, but affectionate, though she was afraid of my exuberant daughter. She was a stray. I told her I would take her home if she stayed until we left. The tiny, superstitious part of my mind wondered at the coincidence of a black cat visiting so insistently at a time like this. I find that animals, particularly cats, tend to come when I need something soft and living to touch. By the time I left the house, she was gone. I wish she had stayed.

I left the house feeling a little more at peace. Death has never been something to ruffle my feathers. I'm not sure if it is because I have never formed strong bonds with someone, or if it is because I have a very unorthodox view of death. It is probably a little of both. Whatever the reason, I always find myself feeling a little awkward when surrounded by the grieving, particularly when I should also be grieving. Today, I mourned my grandfather and my grandmother in truth by sorting through their things and remembering.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Professing Christ Means You're Better?

I'm not a big sucker for politics. I try to keep my boots as clean as possible while gathering enough information to vote. I don't usually comment on political issues, but this isn't really a political issue so much as a religious one. In watching the debates about whether or not good LDS members will break the Republican mold, a comment was made that voting for Huckabee is better than voting for Obama because "any person who professes Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior . . . will be a better person for it." I don't think so. I think it depends on what image the so-called "professor of faith" has created for Jesus Christ.

Evidence: The Crusaders professed Christ as Lord and Savior.
The Inquisition professed Christ as Lord and Savior.
The Salem witch hunters professed Christ as Lord and Savior.

I generally feel pity for atheists and agnostics, but there is one thing on which I wholeheartedly agree with them: unaccountable evil has been done in the name of Christ. Christ himself warned that many would come falsely in His name. That it is necessary to take upon oneself the name of Christ in order to be saved is inarguable. However, if someone confesses the name of Jesus Christ, but does so by redefining that name, he is creating a false Christ and is, essentially, taking the name of God in vain. The name of Christ is its own, it cannot be used to justify a person's own agenda. True belief in Christ is not a political tool.

Whether or not Huckabee falls into that category, I'm not intending to comment on, but simply saying "I believe in Jesus" is not enough to truly take His name upon oneself. Nor does it automatically make one a better person. In some cases, it has shown to make one infinitely worse. For me, I'd rather* have a sincere and humble follower of Islam in office than a two-faced, manipulative Mormon.

*Disclaimer: this is not a comment on either Obama or Romney, so don't get your knickers in a twist.

Friday, February 15, 2008

To Forgive or Not to Forgive?

. . . verily I say unto you, I, the Lord, forgive sins unto those who confess their sins before me and ask forgiveness, who have not sinned unto death.

My disciples, in days of old, sought occasion against one another and forgave not one another in their hearts; and for this evil they were afflicted and sorely chastened.

Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.

I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.

And ye ought to say in your hearts—let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds.
D&C 64:7-11

So how does one forgive another? How do you know when you have forgiven? Is it possible to be frustrated and forgiving at the same time? What if the person is still doing the thing that requires forgiveness, and has no foreseeable feeling of repentance? In that case, the wounds are perpetual. Such a case requires constantly working to forgive the newest wounds.

What if you are not seeking "occasion against" the person you are trying to forgive, but you can't quite get rid of feelings of hurt and frustration? What if you want to forgive, but don't know how to let go of the pain of what they have done because it is still ongoing? Forgiveness belongs to the Lord because only He "know[s] the hearts of all the children of men." Is it enough to want to forgive and to seek the Spirit, hoping that your feelings of anger and resentment will fade? What if those feelings are building because of repeat offenses and future consequences that you will have to pay? How do you let it go?

I'm afraid I'm not forgiving very well right now. I'm terrified of the consequences of not being able to find forgiveness. I have done so many things wrong myself! I'm begging for forgiveness myself. As long as I feel resentful and hurt, I don't think I can fully repent of my own weaknesses and mistakes. I want to let go. Usually, I'm uncannily good at letting go, but not this time. What does that mean eternally? I think I'm at a point where I have to pray to forgive and say, I want to forgive, then when forgiveness comes, I'll welcome it.

I'd welcome any suggestions that might speed things up. I hate feeling this way.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Men Are That They Might Have Joy

This isn't a long post, as I don't have much to say that hasn't already been said on this scripture. In my reading, I came across this scripture mastery scripture: 2 Nephi 2:25 "Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy."

It's a very central distinguishing factor in the doctrine of Mormonism. Rarely in the Christian world is Adam and Eve's Fall looked upon as anything other than filthy sin. The doctrine of the LDS Church, however, teaches that Adam and Eve's Fall had a purpose in the great plan of our God, namely to bring about his work of bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. Without the ability to choose, we humans could not learn to choose wisely. We could not grow. We could not learn to be actors instead of the acted-upon. We could not have learned the power and joy of having a family and children. We could not have learned joy without knowing sorrow. Importantly, LDS doctrine teaches that God knew what Adam and Eve would choose, and then prepared a way for them, if they chose wisely, to be forgiven. Namely, He provided a Savior for them, whose atonement would erase the consequences of Adam and Eve's Fall for all those willing to choose righteously and to repent.

As someone intermittently beset by a lack of joy, I've often wondered about this verse. Sometimes, I've wondered what was wrong with me. If men exist in order to have joy, why was I finding it so difficult? Something that struck me this time, however, was the word "might". Adam didn't Fall in order that men have joy, but to give a chance for men to have joy. There is an opportunity, a chance, for all of us, no matter our position in life, our wealth, our social status, our health, to find that joy. It's not something that comes naturally, it's something that must be worked for. The common modern perception that somehow comfort and joy ought to be handed to all is simply wrong. If a person is given everything they wish, they will not be able to understand joy when they have it. Joy must be worked for, and most importantly, sorrow must be understood in order to appreciate joy.

Only when sorrow pushes the strength of our souls can we understand, just a little bit more, the Price that was paid for our joy. When we do that, we realize how very great the worth of souls is to Him. Imagine! We humans are so valuable, He was willing to undergo humiliation and death, the Father was willing to send His Son to us, knowing all our weaknesses and filth. Yet, despite the fact that we crucified our God, our worth to Him is beyond comprehension. That is humbling, and it brings me great joy.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Why a Different Answer?

It is a strange set of circumstances that surrounds the question "Is the Book of Mormon true?" As missionaries, we teach the process to receiving a testimony, namely 1) Gather information (specifically to read the Book of Mormon), 2) Prepare yourself to receive the Spirit into your heart by doing all you can to keep the Lord's commandments and 3) Pray to God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ if the things you have read and done are true and of Him. Many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have done these things and received an answer from the Lord through the Spirit that the Church is true, that the Book of Mormon is of God, that Joseph Smith is His prophet and that those who have been so called in the history of the Church are also His prophets. Some have received this answer so unequivocally that they find it difficult to understand how another person could do the same things and receive a different answer. In their minds, they know it to be true. Therefore, if someone else does not know it to be true, they haven't applied themselves to finding an answer diligently enough to receive it. The reality behind the surface, I suspect, is much more complicated. There could be any number of reasons why one seeking to know the truth may not receive it, only one of which is that they are not trying hard enough. I'd like to hypothesize a few of these.

The Lord is giving an answer, but the person doesn't know how to recognize it. This is a common one. This is one thing the missionaries are to do: to help people feel and recognize the Spirit. Many people, having heard stories of miraculous conversions, are seeking a wham-bam testimony slap. In the economy of heaven, this is rare. It is important for a seeker of truth to train oneself to the soft whisperings of the Spirit, rather than expecting pyrotechnics. This is not to say divine pyrotechnics are impossible, only that they come after a person has already demonstrated patience and subtlety in listening for the Spirit.

The Gospel is hard. The Lord may refrain from giving an answer to one seeking it because they are not truly ready to receive it. Once the path of discipleship is commenced, it quickly becomes apparent that it is not a stroll through the park. Additionally, a person may also decide for themselves that the path of discipleship is too hard for them. Often they can't admit this to themselves, preferring to believe that they have found no answer or even a negative one. I know of at least one person who has commenced on the path of discipleship, only to be intimidated by the difficulty of it. For some reason, we expect that if we are doing the right thing, it should be easy or at least easier. Though it is an important starting point, the gospel requires more than that initial desire to believe. It also requires dedication. One must be prepared to give all that they have, all that they are to His kingdom. There is no room for lukewarm dedication in the battle for the allegiance of men's souls.

Along a similar note, it is possible that those who are consciously seeking an answer are subconsciously afraid of it. After all, if they know the truth, they will be expected to act on it. It will require Changing their lives in ways they may not be prepared for. They will have to learn self-control. They will have to learn to stand for what they believe in the face of opposition. It takes a lot of courage to decide to stop swimming with the river and to go against it. Some will lose friends and even family members to their decision.

Finally, it is possible that the Lord refrains giving an answer for purposes of His own. He knows the hearts and actions of all men. Who is to say that by giving His answer ten years from now rather than now, that more people will not be blessed by it? Sometimes, a seeker of knowledge may have more to learn before they embark on the path of discipleship. We just don't know. What we do know is that the Lord has promised that all those who work for Him will receive Him. Those who seek will find, but it may not be according to our plans and timetables.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

An Apostle, not a German

I find it curious that so many are wondering what impact a non-American member of the Presidency will have on the Church. Some laud President Monson on his international savvy. I have only two things to say to that:

First, the Lord called President Uchtdorf, not President Monson. I truly believe that. I've seen enough similar situations to know how that could be possible. If anything, it's the Lord's international savvy, and that is hardly a surprise, is it? The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve are one of the most internationally aware groups of men in the world. That is nothing new.

Secondly, I wonder what sort of impact they expect from a non-American Presidency member. As I've said, they are already about as internationally aware as a group of men can be. Uchtdorf himself strongly underscored that he is an apostle before he is a German. He is there to serve the Lord, not to serve his country. There is a lesson in that, should anyone care to examine it.

Monday, February 4, 2008

New Servants Called

Welcome to our new presidency, Presidents Monson, Eyring and Uchtdorf. I am glad to see these representatives of the Lord in a place where He wishes them to serve.

Eve's Choice

I have often wondered how Eve must have felt, holding the Fruit in her hand and contemplating that bite. Did she clearly see the two paths before her?

She was given the name of Eve, "mother of all living", before she made that decision. She was chosen and named to choose mortal life for all living - not only for mankind. We don't hear much about her after that. In the book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price, we hear that she labored alongside her husband, bearing his burden for their transgression along with her own. We are told that she worshipped the Lord with her husband and desired that her children follow in her faith. We know that some of her children were not faithful, but worshipped Satan. We learn that this hurt her, showing that she indeed felt the sorrow of her choice. We are also shown that despite this pain and sorrow, she bore her consequences with true nobility, and that she found joy in her life and in her service - and in her sorrow.

I believe that Eve clearly saw her choice, though she may not have understood the full consequences of her choice. I do not think she transgressed in ignorance. As she held that fruit in her hand, listening to the lies of Satan, she knew that her husband had been given a commandment to not partake of Knowledge. She knew that they both had been told to multiply and replenish the earth. She was faced with two commandments, she knew how to follow the first, but the second she did not know. The serpent told her that eating the fruit would make her wise, perhaps she realized it was this wisdom that would be necessary to follow that second commandment. Perhaps she only hoped it would be so. Regardless, I believe she saw two paths - one safe and known, the other wrought with uncertainty, danger and sorrow. Perhaps she, also, wrestled a long time with her decision. In the end, she was willing to take sorrow upon herself in order to learn the joy. She was willing to take the harder road, even without knowing for certain that it was God's will.

I believe that each of Eve's children will be given, to some extent, the same choice she was given. Will we choose the middle, safe road or will we choose the road of pain, labor and sacrifice? Do we have the courage to leap into the unknown, relying on the Lord's infinite love for us? What's more, are we willing to make that choice when it affects another, knowing it will also bring them pain?

I don't know if I am. I don't even know which of my two paths is the one with more sorrow. But I have learned to honor our mother Eve for the decision she made. Her strength and bravery is far greater than we realize. I hope I can meet her some day. Meet her, and thank her for her life.

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