Transformation from a state of doing to a state of being through Jesus Christ.


Doctrine is a word that gets thrown around in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and despite a veritable lifetime in the Faith, I find it difficult to define in any concrete terms.  It turns out there’s good reasoning for this as a search through Church materials failed to produce a single definition for the term.  There is, however, a compilation of doctrines the Church holds as indispensable Truths.

  1. The Godhead
  2. Plan of Salvation
  3. Atonement of Jesus Christ
  4. Dispensation, Apostasy, and Restoration
  5. Prophets and Revelation
  6. Priesthood and Priesthood Keys
  7. Ordinances and Covenants
  8. Marriage and Family
  9. Commandments¹

With regards to these doctrines, the Church leadership gave the following admonishment this month.

Teach doctrine. We must be careful to teach only true doctrine. The Holy Ghost is “the Spirit of Truth”. Learners can feel His confirming witness when we declare “none other things than the prophets and apostles” and avoid speculation and personal interpretation. One of the best ways to avoid even getting near false doctrine is to keep our teaching simple.”²

So what is doctrine?  Given the above it’s possible to infer what it means to the Church, though the term is by no means held in religious context alone.  Doctrine is also a critical ideal in the military which is (fortunately) not at all vague as to its meaning.

“Fundamental principles by which the military forces or elements thereof guide their actions in support of national objectives. It is authoritative but requires judgment in application.”³

See a difference?  The latter is grounded in wisdom, trust, and discipline while the former is a narrative riddled with unfounded assertions (matters Christ never spoke of) and of which the veering from absolute dictated interpretation is strictly forbidden.  Consider the following:

“And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.

And he said unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables?” -Mark 4:11-13

The Gospel is simple, yet requires speculation and personal interpretation. It requires judgment in the application of fundamental principles. Like parables, it is understood in your unique fashion and that understanding is ever fluid.

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things”. -Paul, 1 Cor. 13:11

There is too much vastness in the expanse and complexity in the human experience to be distilled into a culturally-exclusive, literal-mandating narrative.  It is a knee-jerk ostrich reaction in the presence of the truly awesome.  It is a childish thing.


Choosing Wisely

“You must choose, but choose wisely. For as the true grail will bring you life, the false grail will take it from you.” – Grail Knight

And so it is laid out.  Life hanging in the balance and the means to save within grasp if one but has the capacity to see it for what it truly is.  The power-lusting Nazi, Walter Donovan, proceeds instantly, but soon pauses in marvel at the many golden goblets and chalices .

“I’m no historian, I have no idea what it looks like.”

Deferring to the undoubtedly more refined tastes and sensibilities of the ravishing Dr. Elsa Schneider, he holds aloft the glittering, jewel-encrusted vessel of her choosing.

“It’s more beautiful than I ever imagined.  This is certainly the cup of The King of Kings.”

It ends for Walter, as the Grail Knight phrases it, rather poorly.

The intrepid Dr. Jones goes next.  Scanning across the ornate array, he quickly identifies the Grail.  It’s small, worn, and drab.

“That’s the cup of a carpenter.”


In thinking on this well-known climactic scene to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade I had the startling realization that I readily identify with Walter Donovan.  Not that I’m a Nazi, mind you, but that with regards to matters of religious significance I am no historian.  And it would seem that in the absence of objective historical knowledge, the mythical often rises to stake that claim.

“When the Son of man shall come in glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory.” -Matt. 25:31

Who was the Son of man?  In the faith of my upbringing it was certainly acknowledged that Christ forsook a life of employ and stability to travel with a message of peace.  Beyond this, however, lies a disconnect concerning Christ that manifests itself in the media produced in his honor.  A clean, well-dressed Caucasian with voluminous (and undoubtedly heavily conditioned) flowing hair.  I have no doubt, though, that this image would conflict with Dr. Jones’ archaeological and anthropological assertion.  While Christ’s exact ethnicity is unclear, it’s a stretch to imagine that a nomadic and financially destitute individual would manage to appear immaculately groomed in public and perhaps an offense to His anti-materialistic cause to suggest he cared enough to spend any effort to address it.  I imagine Jesus, like most transient individuals I cross paths with, appeared rather unkempt though bathed when and where he could when the graciousness of others to use better facilities was not available.  I imagine he was sweaty, reeked, had matted hair and discolored teeth.  But, even if this were the case how did this change of imagined-appearance come to be and why does it really even matter?

Church attendance throughout my life has been in a white button-up shirt with a tie (when not in a full-on business suit) in a building that cost millions of dollars.  I concerned myself with daily scripture reading and prayer in preparation for entering the holy temple, an even more expensive, blindingly white building to engage in ritualistic ceremonies in the pursuit of eternal life.  I listened intently to successful businessmen-turned-evangelists tell of their own similar experiences.  I spent two years walking door-to-door inviting others to attend, pay money, cease beer and coffee drinking, gain membership, serve other members, adhere unwaveringly to leaders, go to the temple, make their own promises through ritualistic ceremonies, and subsequently remain faithful to the institution.

I did this all this, and more, to honor a homeless vagrant who wanted nothing more than to see the human family get along through the individual achievement of attaining inner-peace.

Sound strange?  It should.  My convictions have been not been modeled after the historical Jesus, but the mythical one. My religion was not a practice in the words of the Traveling Teacher, but an emulation of the unfounded perception of the Heavenly Kingdom in which he allegedly rules.  The search for the least of these was tangential.  The radiant, floating, death-conqueror whose very presence compels all to kneel.  I have, for the better part of 30 years, fashioned a gold, jewel-encrusted goblet from a dirty clay cup.  And it, as the false grail it ultimately was, indeed stole life from me by placing me on a religious treadmill and developing a sense of pride therefrom.

How this has come to be for me personally is a complex matter. Though, in reference to the Book of Matthew passage above, is largely attributable to the single word “glory”.  Christ reportedly was, exhibited, and revealed glory.  But what does this mean about Him then and now?

“Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” -John 17:20-23 (Underline added)

I believe the heart of glory lies in Christ’s own words above.  That glory is the love-flowing means by which we identify, understand, empathize and bear compassion with one to another.  The following story illustrates this ideal well.

“And, behold, two of them went that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was from Jerusalem about threescore furlongs. And they talked together of all these things which had happened. And it came to pass, that, while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near, and went with them. But their eyes were holden that they should not know him. And they drew nigh unto the village, whither they went: and he made as though he would have gone further. But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them. And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him, and he vanished out of their sight. And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” -Luke 24:13-16, 28-32 (Underline added)

This is not to say that there is no arguable position that an aspect of glory is of the “shock and awe” variety or that Jesus Christ did (does) not have some form of nearly indiscernible and indescribable aura about his person that testified(ies) to his persuasive message.  Rather my life is a demonstration of how the mythical mis-portrayal of Christ can invite the follies of idolatry.

It is my personal belief that it is very much Christ’s desire that his glory be felt “as our heart burning within us” in a very personal and intimate setting.  But for those unwilling and expecting a blinding, face-melting experience may very well see that glory too.

The choice is there.  Choose wisely.






Higher Path, Treacherous Footing

You may have known or realized from the previous post concerning comprehension as illustrated through Constantine that the film itself is R-rated.  For some this alone, by default, becomes a deal-breaker.  But why is this so?  The logic could run anywhere from “I could glean the same point from a more wholesome source” to the extreme of “All R-rated films are morally bereft”.  I wonder, though, if such assertions necessarily accommodate all life experiences.  That is, are people from all of life’s diverse paths equally receptive to a Hallmark* approach?  Or is that same approach capable of conveying answers to all of life’s possible experiences? The following is one of any number of possible conversations that portray the basis of this inquiry.

Janice: Ya know, I’ve been thinking.

Robert: Yeah?  Did it hurt?

Janice: Ha ha, jerkface.  No, seriously though.

Robert: What?

Janice: I’ve really been digging Rage Against the Machine lately and…,  I think that Christ would understand the frustration and sense of injustice they convey.

Robert: But they swear.

Janice: I know there’s swearing, but I think that that’s a part of where they come from in their own lives and that Christ can see past that with understanding.

Robert: So Christ condones swearing?

Janice: No, that’s not what I’m saying.  I just believe that the general message that the band is trying to spread is grounded in ideals that Christ promotes and that it could be a means for some people to identify with it.  You know, people who might otherwise not.

Robert: So…, we’ll be like listening to Rage in heaven?

Janice: I don’t know…, some maybe.

Robert: That’s some ridiculous justification.  You need help.

Janice. Whatever.  Nevermind.

Robert and Janice represent two differing approaches to what is considered morally sound.  In the realm of ethics, these sides are termed ‘idealism’ and ‘relativism’.  The author and social psychologist, Donelson Forsyth, explains them as follows:

“[Donelson] Forsyth proposed that we think about these individual preferences in terms of two factors: (1) idealism or the person’s concerns for the welfare of others; and (2) relativism or the person’s emphasis on ethical principles being dependent on the situation rather than being applicable to all situations.  Idealism is related to what we referred to as thinking about consequences.  For example, individuals high on idealism believe that one should always avoid harming other people in ethical dilemma situations, while non-idealists believe that “it depends” because “harm is sometimes . . . necessary to produce good”. Relativism is more related to deontological (principle rather than consequence) theories and our focus on principles.  For example, individuals who are low on relativism believe that all situations are subject to universal ethical principles (such as honesty). On the other hand, individuals who are high on relativism believe that people should weigh the particular circumstances in a situation when making decisions, because there are no universal ethical principles that determine right action in every situation. Research suggests that those high on idealism are more likely to have ethical intentions and to be critical of unethical behavior. This is probably because idealists are more concerned about anything they might do that would harm others. By contrast, high relativism has been found associated with unethical intentions, perhaps because relativists who do not follow clear ethical principles find it easier to rationalize unethical behavior.” 1

So idealism follows that there are basic ethical rules that should always be adhered to while relativism argues that the correct course of action is circumstantial.  And while research has shown relativism (in its extreme at least) is often derived from unethical intentions I believe it is the correct platform from which a disciple should base their approach to the Gospel given that particular attributes are developed as safeguards.  Another hypothetical conversation illustrates this idea.

Dan: Hey Nephi, missed you last week in Elder’s Quorum.  Things alright?

Nephi: Yeah uh…, we were out of town.

Dan: Camping, eh?  How’d that go for you?

Nephi: Um, it was a bit rougher than we anticipated.

Dan: Oh yeah?  What happened?

Nephi: Well, you hear about what happened to Laban?

Dan: Oh man, yeah.  I mean the guy was a jerk, no denying that.  But vigilante decapitation?  Man, that’s just harsh.

Nephi: Yeah well…, it was me.

Dan: Ha!  That’s some twisted humor man.

Nephi: …

Dan: Wait. You serious?!

Nephi: Yeah.

Dan: Dude, are you insane?  We’re supposed to like stone you for something like that!  What were you thinking?

Nephi: I don’t know.  It’s hard to explain.  The Holy Spirit kind of constrained me to do it.

Dan: But Moses told us not to kill.  He’s the prophet!

Nephi: I know, I know.  It’s sounds crazy, but yeah, the Spirit persuaded me that it needed to be done.

Dan: Beware the spirit you listeth to obey, Nephi.  The Holy Spirit would never go against the Prophet!

Nephi: I know what I did, and I know for what purpose I did it.  My heart is right with God.

Dan: No man.  You’re deluded.  Leave now, and if you value your life you won’t come back.

The platform of clear rules of conduct is indeed a safe one.  But as Forysth explained, it also leaves little room for understanding the motivations behind the actions of others operating outside those rules.  We can become critical of others, even if not vocally.  Departing from this foundation, however, to embrace a more spiritually dynamic approach to life is not without its inherent risks (remember the unethical intentions?).  The higher path is indeed fraught with treacherous footing.  Research showed relativism gravitated towards unethical intentions and Forsyth inferred therefrom that it resulted from the inclination to marginalize and rationalize.  Does Janice really connect Rage Against the Machine’s ideology with that of Christ, or is she simply easing her own guilty conscience for listening to music with profanity? Did the movie Constantine spiritually alert me to the dangers of ‘doing’ or am I simply alluding as much to excuse my delighting in violence?  The difference rests on a razor’s edge and determines whether the individual ascends in light, truth, and understanding or plummets into the dark depths of self-deception, hedonism, and guile.

So what now?  Should we all go out diving in mud looking for diamonds?  How would I know from what sources the spirit would specifically resonate with me and how should I seek these out?  How might I discern if one’s claim of truth from a given source is mistaken, even if the individual is sincere?  How could this pursuit not devolve into a utter chaos?  These are valid questions and I honestly have little in way of concrete answers, though the headache of managing this dilemma is not new.  Joseph Smith faced similar problems when trying to wean gospel-converts from looking to man (himself included) for direction.

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has also had its false spirits; and as it is made up of all those different sects professing every variety of opinion, and having been under the influence of so many kinds of spirits, it is not to be wondered at if there should be found among us false spirits.

Soon after the Gospel was established in Kirtland, and during the absence of the authorities of the Church, many false spirits were introduced, many strange visions were seen, and wild, enthusiastic notions were entertained; men ran out of doors under the influence of this spirit, and some of them got upon the stumps of trees and shouted, and all kinds of extravagances were entered into by them; one man pursued a ball that he said he saw flying in the air, until he came to a precipice, when he jumped into the top of a tree, which saved his life; and many ridiculous things were entered into, calculated to bring disgrace upon the Church of God, to cause the Spirit of God to be withdrawn, and to uproot and destroy those glorious principles which had been developed for the salvation of the human family…

There have also been ministering angels in the Church which were of Satan appearing as an angel of light. A sister in the state of New York had a vision, who said it was told her that if she would go to a certain place in the woods, an angel would appear to her. She went at the appointed time, and saw a glorious personage descending, arrayed in white, with sandy colored hair; he commenced and told her to fear God, and said that her husband was called to do great things, but that he must not go more than one hundred miles from home, or he would not return; whereas God had called him to go to the ends of the earth, and he has since been more than one thousand miles from home, and is yet alive. Many true things were spoken by this personage, and many things that were false.” -TPJS, p. 213-214

I previously defined Zion as being individuals tied together by the cause of love moving through life as each was impressed and I can see how such a basis can initially devolve to a transitory chaos as an infant ‘body of Christ’.  Indeed, this may even be a natural process in spiritual development.  As such, producing a comprehensive list of “approved materials or sources” as a means of managing this is not only ludicrous in scope, but violates the very purpose of spiritual progression on the higher path.  Truth will manifest itself in variety matched in scale only by the differences in God’s own children and the vastness of life experiences. Discerning truth for yourself is an individual exercise and an inherent part of discovering the vibrant universe.

“One of the grand fundamental principles of “Mormonism” is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.” -TPJS, p. 313

“We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, or we shall not come out true “Mormons”. -TPJS, p. 316

“I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.” -Millenial Star, 15 Nov. 1851, p. 339

A final word on these ‘correct principles’ before concluding.  I mentioned before “safeguards” that would keep a spiritual-relativist disciple’s heart right with Christ.  These safeguards are the qualities of honesty, accountability, and maturity.

Self-honesty is both the igniting catalyst and last bastion of the penitent heart.  One caught in the thralls of darkness always sees a piercing ray of redeeming hope so long as he or she acknowledges, with no degree of deceit, the harm and subsequent emptiness of sin.  When evaluating truth from any source do not be tempted to overestimate (or misconstrue) the light proposition or downplay accompanying darkness (if any).  Weigh the matter with objectivity and your heart will feel increased by the material in question, or it will not.

Failing to accept responsibility for one’s mistake has two debilitating consequences.  The missed opportunity to learn therefrom and the glaring possibility of committing it again.  I have seen this in the excuse of blaming an addiction for an action and as a demand for mitigated consequences.  Not only will one fail to determine why the behavior developed to begin with, but the blame tactic remains handy should the cycle repeat.  If you are mistaken in your truth-seeking, be honest with yourself and own it.  Make amends where necessary, determine how and why you were mistaken and move on.  Regain your footing and continue the ascent.

Maturity is understanding and the wisdom in knowing when one does not.  A mature adult may understand love as a commitment to selflessness and where sexual relations are properly placed therein.  A teenager coping with fluctuating hormonal development and inexperience likely will not.  However, the teenager may exhibit tremendous maturity by adhering to the advice of a responsible adult and avoid the risk of unduly complicating their life in a myriad of ways.  As you walk through life know always what your path has revealed and what it has not.  Be open to the words of those who have tread before and if truth rings clear, act hence on faith.

Govern yourself with honesty, accountability, and maturity; have love in your heart always and you will hear the voice of the Shepherd all around you.

“And Moses went out, and told the people the words of the Lord, and gathered the seventy men of the elders of the people, and set them round about the tabernacle. And the Lord came down in a cloud, and spake unto him, and took of the spirit that was upon him, and gave it unto the seventy elders: and it came to pass, that, when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, and did not cease.

But there remained two of the men in the camp, the name of the one was Eldad, and the name of the other Medad: and the spirit rested upon them; and they were of them that were written, but went not out unto the tabernacle: and they prophesied in the camp.

And there ran a young man, and told Moses, and said, Eldad and Medad do prophesy in the camp. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Moses, one of his young men, answered and said, My lord Moses, forbid them. And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!” -Numbers 11:24-29 (Underlined added)

The Constantine Paradox

The Great Divorce is amazing in conveying the idea that the Kingdom of God is not earned, but rather comprehended.  Understanding, however, that comprehending Christ comes by way of not actively trying to comprehend is another matter entirely.  The concept is a type of paradox in that it is seemingly contradictory, but somehow true nonetheless.  It makes the very writing of it a rather elusive exercise.  Luckily, God has spared my incompetent botching of the matter by inspiring another to encapsulate it in the movie Constantine.1 And it should, by now, go without saying that it is recommended you view this film before proceeding so my feeble summation doesn’t spoil it.

John Constantine has 1) the ability of seeing both angelic and demonic beings on Earth and 2) an exceptional talent for stylishly exorcising the latter.  As a youth, however, he didn’t exactly see it as a gift. (Not a common “maturation” talk to be had, I guess).  Feeling inescapably tormented by this curse he takes his own life and, for a brief moment, finds himself consigned to hell as a direct consequence of his decision before he is resuscitated.  Life for him now though, as it turns out, is only a fleeting reprieve because a strange caveat of fate keeps his sentence of damnation assured upon his eventual death.  The experience is so harrowing that Constantine is compelled to resist defeatism and scrape some semblance of hope together with a plan.  Put simply, he intends to kick so much demonic ass that it would be literally unjust for Heaven not to spare his soul as recompense.  It is here that the film unfolds at a later point in Constantine’s life when bad news in relation to poor lifestyle habits drives him to confront the angel Gabriel in desperation.


Gabriel: I know what you want, son.

Constantine: Still keeping your all-seeing eye on me, Gabriel?  I’m flattered.

Gabriel: Well, I could offer something about how the shepherd leads even the most wayward of his flock.  But it might sound disingenuous.

Constantine: I’ve been seeing some unusual soul traffic lately. Might consider giving me an extension.  Do your side some good these days.

Gabriel: You still trying to buy your way into heaven?

Constantine: What about the minions I’ve sent back? That alone should guarantee my entry.

Gabriel: How many times have I told you? That’s not the way this works.

Constantine: Haven’t I served him enough? What does he want from me?

Gabriel: Only the usual. Self-sacrifice…, belief.

Constantine: Oh I believe for Christ’s sake.

Gabriel: No, no.  You know.  And there’s a difference.  You’ve seen.

Constantine: I never asked to see. I was born with this curse.

Gabriel: A gift, John. One that you’ve squandered on selfish endeavors.

Constantine: I’ve pulled demons out of little girls.  Who’s that for?

Gabriel: Everything you’ve ever done you’ve only ever done for yourself. To earn your way back into His good graces.

Constantine: Impossible rules.  Endless regulations.  Who goes up, who goes down.  And why?… Why me, Gabriel?  It’s personal, isn’t it? I didn’t go to Church enough.  I didn’t pray enough. I was five bucks short in the collection plate.  Why?

Gabriel: You are going to die young because you smoked 30 cigarettes a day since you were fifteen. And you’re going to go to hell because of the life you took.


Aside from Gabriel’s less-than-sensitive approach this conversation could easily have a place in Lewis’ tale.  I suspect that trying to differentiate the state of doing from that of being will be one of the more common (though delicate and nuanced) persuasive discussions that will take place in the hereafter.  And the soul traffic Constantine mentioned?  It’s surfacing evidence of a hellish plot to destroy humanity.  Constantine fights heroically to thwart it, but ultimately sees it’s a losing battle.  Sparing details, he again takes his own life to end the conflict.  If suicide alone was sufficient to ensure eternal torment, twice would certainly stamp and seal that fate, yes?

But it doesn’t.  Constantine finds redemption.  But how is this so?  Is it because this single act saved so many individuals as to finally tilt that eternal scale in his favor?  Was it the final farthing exacted by a just God to warrant an arbitrary salvation?  No.  It’s because Constantine gave his life to save others, and his own redemption wasn’t the motivating force behind it.  Justice, fairness, mercy, compassion, and love (in spite of his cynical façade) prompted him to do it.  In fact, at that very moment Constantine fully expected eternal life in hell.  This is the “comprehension”, to place others before one’s self.  And not for us, or even for Christ, but for its own sake.  Having this always in our hearts is to know Heaven, not a place reserved for the righteous elite, but a state of being and understanding.  We can know Heaven here and now, it is always within reach.  This is why it is so imperative that we not judge one another, but seek understanding and empathy always.  Because it is not what we do that paves our path, but the why.

It took accepting the fate of Hell for Constantine to awaken.  Would it need to be so for you or I?

Ninety and Nine

“Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. And he spake this parable unto them, saying,

What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth no leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.

I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.” -Luke 15:1-7

Both this instance and accompanying parable are familiar. And what of the interpretation?  Who is represented by the ninety and nine? By the one?  As you consider the matter, where do you feel you find yourself in relation to this parable? Joseph Smith offered some insight on this in 1843.  Read below and see if it aligns with your own impressions.

While Jesus was teaching the people, all the publicans and sinners drew near to hear Him; “and the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying: This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.” This is the keyword which unlocks the parable of the prodigal son. It was given to answer the murmurings and questions of the Sadducees and Pharisees, who were querying, finding fault, and saying, “How is it that this man as great as He pretends to be, eats with publicans and sinners?” Jesus was not put to it so, but He could have found something to illustrate his subject, if He had designed it for nation or nations; but He did not. It was for men in an individual capacity; and all straining on this point is a bubble. “This man receiveth sinners and eateth with them.”

And he spake this parable unto them-“What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them doth not leave the ninety-and-nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety-and-nine just persons which need no repentance.” The hundred sheep represent one hundred Sadducees and Pharisees, as though Jesus had said, “If you Sadducees and Pharisees are in the sheepfold, I have no mission for you; I am sent to look up sheep that are lost; and when I have found them, I will back them up and make joy in heaven.” This represents hunting after a few individuals, or one poor publican, which the Pharisees and Sadducees despised.

He also gave them the parable of the woman and her ten pieces of silver, and how she lost one, and searching diligently, found it again, which gave more joy among the friends and neighbors than the nine which were not lost; like I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety-and-nine just persons that are so righteous; they will be damned anyhow; you cannot save them. -TPJS p. 277-278

My own previous understanding, and that which I believe to be generally taught, is that Christ stands before a field of 100 sheep, those who are His.  One of the fold has wandered, and the Savior leaves the gathered fold to retrieve the wayward.  But what if this incorrect?  What if Christ is standing before an empty field?  That is, all one hundred sheep are lost. The Redeemer charges into the wilderness to gather them but he is unable to.  Why?  Because the sheep do not believe they are lost.  They believe they already graze in his presence and in this belief they unknowingly remain out of reach. By and by, however, one comes to realize he/she is very much lost. In this frightening realization, they call out for the Good Shepherd who rushes to gather them.  How many will ultimately be gathered?  As many as will call out in despair, having faith in His power to save. Unfortunately, I suspect it will be fewer than generally imagined. “For many are called, but few are chosen.” -Matthew 22:14

For you and I, we must ask ourselves about how we originally interpreted the parable (if different than Brother Joseph), why we interpreted it in that manner, and what that might suggest about who we are.

“Yea, cry unto him for mercy; for he is mighty to save.” -Alma 34:18

The First Fruits

“Bring therefore fruits meet for repentance:” -Matthew 3:8

This is a curious injunction delivered by John the Baptist of whom the Savior claimed “there is not a greater prophet” (Luke 7:28). If we are all saved by grace then what exactly is repentance and what role does it play in our salvation? It is beneficial to approach this question by separating the self into two parts, nature and action.

An act can be borne of one’s nature or it can be arbitrarily forced.  If one commits an act that is negatively misaligned with his/her nature then the individual is consciously bothered as a consequence.  That is, he/she suffers guilt.

…only let your sins trouble you, with that trouble which shall bring you down unto repentance.” -Alma 42:29 (italics added)

This law also operates in reverse such that one who arbitrarily forces an act that is positively misaligned with his/her nature will suffer spiritual deficiency.  These acts are typically forced out of duty or obligation that, given the individual’s nature, he/she would otherwise not feel inclined to do.

The problem of self occurs when you and I conceive of repentance as isolating negatively and positively aligned actions and attempting to address them individually.  The result is one of two possibilities; either we suffer misery from endlessly chasing a falsely idealized notion of perfection or we develop a sense of superiority over those who we perceive as less-disciplined in this conquering of the natural self.  In either case one’s very nature has not actually changed, only the self-perception of it has.  We view ourselves as utterly worthless or vastly superior and sadly neither condition is capable of comprehending grace.  And when considering that realizing grace was the objective to begin with the irony becomes rather sobering.

“Neither can any natural man abide the presence of God, neither after the carnal mind.” -Doctrine & Covenants 67:12

“And now behold, my brethren, what natural man is there that knoweth these things? I say unto you, there is none that knoweth these things, save it be the penitent.” -Alma 26:21

“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” -1 Corinthians 2:14

Fruits are borne of one’s nature.  Inward-resolutions to cease evil, promote holy, nor declarations of committing to service on his behalf are fruits, because they are artificially derived.

“Many will say unto me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then I will profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Matthew 7:18

So what can you and I possibly naturally produce meet for repentance?  Only the harrowing realization and honest admission that you cannot alter your disposition in the least degree. Only the revealing of your hopelessness before Christ and the soul-wrenching cry for him to rescue you.  These are, and can only ever be, the first naturally borne fruits of one whose nature is at odds with the Spirit.

“Now for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.” -Moses 1:10

I am nothing.  You are nothing.  The comprehension of this is the essence of humility.  And yet Jesus Christ suffered, died, and resurrected because our nothingness means everything to him.  What a paradox to behold.  Call out to Him in despair and He will baptize you with fire.  You and I can be born again unto him, changed beings.

“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, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” -Mosiah 3:19

It is only when our very natures are changed can our actions be fruits truly borne of joy and the Holy Spirit.  And it is only through the Grace of Jesus Christ Our Lord can our very natures be changed.

“I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” -John 5:15

“And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.” -Mosiah 5:2


The Bus Ride From Hell

What if there were no gates to Heaven and that it was open to any and all of God’s children eternally?  What if separation from it was not resultant from divinely appointed punishment for failure to comply with arbitrary laws but rather one’s own failure to recognize it for what it was?  What if the only force that kept you out of Heaven’s reach in the eternities is…, you?  If you are like me you may reason that an open invitation to abide the presence of peace, love, and contentment would be unequivocally seized by all God’s children.  However, after reading C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce you may find yourself terrified looking at a side of yourself you had not before beheld.

The Great Divorce is a fictitious story written by C.S. Lewis, an individual I both respect and admire.  The title is in reference to a collection of poems titled The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by the 18th Century English poet William Blake.  By Lewis’ own admission in the foreword to his book he was uncertain as to the particular inferences and meanings of Blake’s book though there is no denying the intent and purpose for which The Great Divorce was designed.  It is both a terrible warning and an entrancing invitation.  The following is a look into this incredible work and some meaningful inferences, and while I have refrained from delving into the specifics it is advised you obtain a copy and read it before proceeding.  The book strikes me as an experience best relished unadulterated, but if you require some inkling about its premise before committing yourself this review likely preserves the poignant sense of awe and wonder that Lewis deftly invokes.

The tale follows the experience of a recently deceased individual’s bus trip from Hell to Heaven.  During the trip it is explained through passenger dialogue how the city from which they had departed seems capable of providing adequate living space and shelter for the inhabitants, but ultimately fails to do so.  One’s capacity for estrangement and self-importance appears to know no literal bounds.  Once the bus arrives the narrative shifts from interpersonal to environmental interaction giving a fascinating conceptualization to the metaphysics of the spirit realm.  It is only when these visitors stumble out of the bus does their own nature become abundantly clear.  The weight and density of the environment is of a much greater magnitude than these trepidatious souls and the place from which they have traveled.  These ghosts seem precariously endangered in a setting that invokes a sense of serenity.  It is a fascinating paradox.

As compelling and intriguing as the implications of this concept are, they are very much ancillary to the conversations between these sullen, disquieted ghosts and the radiant residents who volunteer their unconditional love and patience to aid them.  These exchanges are exceptional illustrations of the loving nature of persuasion and I would have gladly read dozens more of these encounters to glean understanding of love, acceptance, tolerance, and mercy as well as their self-centered counterfeits though what Lewis has presented suffices.  And as the story passes from one dialogue to another a theme develops.  That is, there is a certain kind of resignation that accompanies the idea that our separation from God’s presence is pronounced by the crack of a gavel that just simply does not exist in the thought that we voluntarily walk away from Him and not even realize it.  To think that I could, by my own volition, distance myself from Christ and loved-ones in the fashion characterized in this book is the most disheartening and frightening feeling I have ever had.  The notion of Christ’s ever-stretched arms is merciful beyond comprehension while that of our subsequent refusal is unfathomably harrowing.  The Holy Spirit confirms to me that there is truth to this conceptualization.

“But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.” Luke 18:16

“And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matt 18:2-4

If you have ever been a little uncertain as to what exactly Christ means with these injunctions, this book will convey it with alarming clarity.  Children are curious, believing, forgiving, amenable, ingenuous, and guileless.  Adults are conceited, pretentious, cynical, preoccupied, complacent, and jaded.  Even under a declaration of good-will and righteousness we can find ourselves fundamentally disassociated with Christ’s love if we harbor any of these traits.  The Great Divorce illustrates just how deceptive and intricately entwined these can be.

What is hell?  What attitudes and behaviors might prevail there?  What could cause you or I to feel inclined to reside there?  These are sobering questions that demand honest introspection.  Read this book.  Ask Christ to reveal your spiritual inhibitions.  Pray he brings color and wonder into your life that you be a believing child again.