Friday, July 30, 2010

The Holy Priesthood: Misconceptions, Pt. 3

Miss #3--Priesthood power is effectual for others, but not for me.

This misconception has everything to do with individual feelings of self-worth and worthiness, and can be applied to more gospel concepts than priesthood. "Forgiveness, heavenly blessings, miracles, and revelations are effectual for others, but not for me." We can fully believe in all the doctrines of the Church, and yet not believe the Lord when he says they apply to us personally.

Reasons for this perspective are myriad: low self-esteem; experience with religions that focus on the 'nothingness' of man (often well-meaning attempts to foster humility that may instead channel needless humiliation or shame;) the tendency to hold priesthood authority in such high regard that one disconnects from it as a terrestrial tool. Across all reasons span the single reason--the adversary's perpetual whispering. If he cannot convince us that the priesthood is altogether false, he will try to convince us, "It doesn't work for you." This idea is far easier to believe since most of us feel our flaws so deeply already.

It's a strange, precarious balance we must reach between boldness and humility. What did God mean when he said that "man is nothing?" How can we be beloved of him and yet be nothing?

Moses' encounter with God as detailed in the Pearl of Great Price is a great answer to this query. The Lord opened the prophet's eyes to a vision in which he "beheld the world upon which he was created; and Moses beheld the world and the ends thereof, and all the children of men which are, and which were created; of the same he greatly marveled and wondered." Transfiguration was necessary for Moses to endure such a massive vision, and when the Lord's glory finally withdrew from him, he was exhausted of his natural strength for many hours. Upon recovery, he declared, "Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed" (Moses 1:8, 10).

Who among us, having viewed the plan of Earth from beginning to end, having beheld all history and all living souls, having viewed the vastness of all things, could proclaim otherwise? "We are so small. I had no idea." Yet this declaration from Moses was not a statement of man's worthlessness, but of the Lord's greatness and Moses' deeply refined, elementally purified sense of humility at seeing it.

Other instances in the scriptures that declare man's nothingness do it in the context of the "natural man." "For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord..." (Mosiah 3:19)

"All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity" (Isa. 40:17).

"And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?" (Daniel 4:35). Once again, we are nothing compared to the Lord.

The prophet Ammon sums up the matter very neatly:

"Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever" (Alma 26:12).

"I am nothing next to God, and I am nothing without God, but with God I can do all things." This is the proper balance.

Also in the Pearl of Great Price, God gives Abraham the following revelation: "Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones; And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born" (Abr. 3:22-23).

Elder Dallin H. Oaks expressed, “Brethren, I believe that the noble and great ones described by Abraham, the ones that God would make his leaders, include those who hold and honor the holy priesthood.

"Priesthood is not, as some may believe, the authority to testify, to pray, to teach in the name of the Lord...members who do not hold the priesthood have authority to do those things. Those to whom priesthood power is delegated, who use it worthily, do not just act in the name of the Lord. Priesthood holders act for the Lord, in things that will be recognized not just in this life but in eternity." (“Priesthood Fireside Focuses on Service,” Ensign, July 1991)

There was a time when the population of Earth was not prepared to wield the holy priesthood. This is not that time, and we are not that population.

Lest this responsibility overwhelm you, know that the level at which man holds the priesthood is only that which a human being can bear. Brigham Young detailed this in the Journal of Discourses:

"It is supposed by this people that we have all the ordinances in our possession for life and salvation, and exaltation, and that we are administering in those ordinances. This is not the case. We are in possession of all the ordinances that can be administered in the flesh; but there are other ordinances and administrations that must be administered beyond this world. I know you would like to ask what they are. I will mention one. We have not, neither can we receive here, the ordinance and the keys of resurrection.

“[The keys] will be given to those who have passed off this stage of action and have received their bodies again. … They will be ordained, by those who hold the keys of the resurrection, to go forth and resurrect the Saints, just as we receive the ordinance of baptism then receive the keys of authority to baptize others for the remission of their sins. This is one of the ordinances we can not receive here [on the earth], and there are many more.

“We organize according to men in the flesh. By combining the elements and planting the seed, we cause vegetables, trees, grains, etc. to come forth.” But we do not give them life. “We are organizing a kingdom here according to the pattern that the Lord has given for people in the flesh, but not for those who have received the resurrection, although it is a similitude.” (JD, 15:137.)

Spencer W. Kimball expounded his thoughts on Brigham Young's doctrine:

"You and I—what helpless creatures are we! Such limited power we have, and how little can we control [as Christ] the wind and the waves and the storms! How limited we are now! We have no power to force the grass to grow, the plants to emerge, the seeds to develop. Could you produce a spirit? Has anyone whom you know ever produced a spirit? This is a power not given to mortal man, so there is much for us to learn.

"Let me mention one more thing. While we are in the mortal body we cannot 'fashion kingdoms [or] organize matter, for [that is] beyond our capacity and calling, beyond this world. In the resurrection, men who have been faithful and diligent in all things in the flesh, [who] have kept their first and second estate, and [are] worthy to be crowned Gods, even the sons of God, will be ordained to organize matter. How much matter do you suppose there is between here and some of the fixed stars which we can see? Enough to frame many, very many millions of such earths as this, yet it is now so diffused, clear and pure, that we look through it and behold the stars. Yet the matter is there. Can you form any conception of this? Can you form any idea of the minuteness of matter?' (Brigham Young, JD, 15:137).

"We talk about the gospel in its fulness; yet we realize that a large part is still available to us as we prepare, as we perfect our lives, and as we become more like our God." (Spencer W. Kimball, “Our Great Potential,” Ensign, May 1977)

The Priesthood authority God grants unto man is only that which is ordained for the use of the mortal being. If your mortal being is obedient to the laws upon which this authority is predicated, you are worthy, able, and responsible to utilize the Priesthood on behalf of the Lord and humanity as far as your reach extends.

Additionally, your worthiness to receive blessings by the power of the holy priesthood is predicated upon your obedience and faith, not upon your level of perfection. If you believe in miracles, if you believe in the power of Jesus Christ to rescue, if you believe that God loves his children--believe that you are included. By this you qualify to receive.

Monday, July 26, 2010

"This is the Light of Christ"

I think the concept of "light" may be one of the most underrated and misunderstood points of the gospel of Christ. Doctrine has its layers of depth, of course, and we each peel back those layers as our understanding permits. But several years ago I endured a personal trial that opened a door to my understanding of the doctrine of Light. This has shaped and colored everything I've learned since in a miraculous way, which is why I'd like to share it.

The Lord says in Doctrine & Covenants, section 88, that the glory of the Celestial Kingdom is the light of truth:

7 Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made.

8 As also he is in the moon, and is the light of the moon, and the power thereof by which it was made;
9 As also the light of the stars, and the power thereof by which they were made;

10 And the earth also, and the power thereof, even the earth upon which you stand.

11 And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings;

12 Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space—

13 The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things.

Before this personal trial to which I refer, I considered light to be two distinct families--physical light (that which radiates from physical sources,) and spiritual light, that mystical power that burns in the heart and shines out through the eyes of the righteous. They were different, I supposed. One was scientifically definable, and the other, while truly the power of God, verged on metaphorical when referred to as "light." Light and knowledge, the light of a new idea, a bright testimony.

But almost in an instant, that misconception burst before my eyes and sifted away like sand in the wind. This is the light of Christ. He is in the sun, he is in the moon, and also the light of the stars, and the power by which they all were made. And the earth also, and the power thereof by which it was made; that which giveth you light, by which he enlightens your eyes and quickens your understanding. It proceeds from the presence of God and fills the immensity of space. It's in all things, gives life to everything, and is the very law by which everything is governed. In short, the light of Christ is every light. Anything upon earth which has organization was organized by this light and has his light within it--because the light is the law through which it was organized, and in this way his intelligence, his light, is truly 'in the midst of all things.'

This introduces a very physical aspect to the idea of corruption. One of Satan's greatest disappointments must surely be that he will never create. Creation is reserved for exalted, eternal beings who attain the knowledge, power, and authority from God to bring matter into a state of organization. This thing will never be for the devil. He therefore engages in the only work he is able--the work of feigning ownership over God's creations by corrupting them.

C.S. Lewis illustrates this in The Screwtape Letters, specifically referring to God-given pleasures. Says the demon Screwtape to his apprentice Wormwood, "We have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is [God's] invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy [God]has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula. It is more certain; and it's better style. To get the man's soul and give him nothing in return—that is what really gladdens [Satan's] heart." Lewis restates this in other texts-- that the devil has not power to create anything, only to corrupt and counterfeit those things his one-time Father has already created.

Consequently, corruption is the process by which living things decompose--literally lose their natural composition. It is the natural, scientific law of the earth that organized, living things which corrupt the 'law' by which they were organized will self-destruct. This is true of anything in physical existence--living things spoiled by disease or pestilence, non-living things assaulted by corrosion or exposed to the elements designed for earth's decomposition and regeneration process. Even the flesh of Man will self-destruct if the individual corrupts it. So reads the Surgeon General's warning on a pack of cigarettes.

One thing only survives the blight of physical corruption--the human soul. It survives only because God gave his children agency. It will therefore not suffer destruction until the corrupted soul in question is made to stand before God and give an account of his use of free will. It must be reiterated, this freedom from absolute destruction is temporary. No one who understands the Plan should feel emboldened by the seeming distance of God's retribution, for it will appear when one least expects, "as a thief in the night"(2 Pet. 3:10).

This earth was organized by the love, light, and intelligence of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. This light is the literal law by which these various organizations are governed and bound. When a thing begins to corrupt, it begins to de-organize, for it violates the law by which is was organized.

With this in mind, consider the small, daily ways in which we allow ourselves to endure corruption. A little hate, anger, prejudice, or malice. A little exposure to coarse language or base entertainment. A little engagement in gossip or slander. No one is perfect, no one will avoid every mistake nor is expected to--that's what repentence is for. But what minor corruptions slide by with your permission that might corrode your sacred armor, violate the light by which you were organized, separate you from the influence of your Father and Creator?

Similarly, there are small acts of obedience that can exponentially increase the strength of the light of Christ that binds you together and binds you to the Lord Jesus Christ, through natural law and voluntarily-adopted eternal covenants. At that moment--that 5:37 on a Tuesday evening when both 'little' options, that of passive exposure to darkness or the active invitation of light, lie before you--which option will you choose?