Friday, January 27, 2012

On Pain

In fact, no pain is ever gain.
    How many times have you heard “no pain no gain”. We often hear of adversity being the source of growth and strength, but is that really true?

    For some reason our culture has been indoctrinated with the philosophy that pain is healthy and good for us. The whole mentality that says: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger” pervades even christian thought. However this materialistic view exists to lift up our pride and arrogance.

    This idea glorifies the strength of the flesh and claims “By the strength of my hand and by my wisdom I have done these things.” However is not only contrary to doctrine, but also contrary to how things actually work in the real world.

    If we look back at our how our bodies and minds grow, we can actually come to an interesting conclusion: pain is never the direct source of growth. It is not the actual act of exercise that brings muscular growth, which in fact damages muscle tissue, and decreases muscle strength.

    So what is the cause of growth or strength? It is the healing of that damaged tissue which follows, that serves as the source of renewed and improved strength. In other words, the life and regenerative powers of the body are the source of our strength. In fact some strength gain is independent of exercise: a good example of which is the natural hypertrophy found in teenagers (especially boys).

    Similarly one does not gain in knowledge through study, but rather through the light of inspiration that comes from on high. No matter how much you study, without inspiration your efforts are wasted.

    In Doctrine and Covenants Section 88:11 we read: “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;” (quickeneth meaning bringing to life)

    That Eureka moment is when all the pieces of the puzzle suddenly fit together in an instant, and you see the big picture of what you were trying to figure out. It is simple as opening your eyes and seeing, and it is the light of God that grants that sight.

    Now all of the above does not excuse one from study or exercise. By studying, one recognizes one's own mental ineptness, and thus allows for growth. Similarly exercise tells one's body of it's muscular ineptitude, thus triggering muscular growth.

    But it is a matter beyond mere humility, as our diligent study and exercise is physical proof of our seeking for mental and physical growth, which growth cometh of the life and light which is granted by the Lord, for it states in Moroni 7:12 “Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God”. Obviously all includes strength and growth.

    Thus in the Kingdom of our God it is possible to have growth without pain or adversity. Were is not so, it would be requisite that there be pain in Heaven, the very idea of which is both ridiculous and incongruent with the foundations of Heaven.

    Indeed if you look at real world cases of extreme suffering you will see that it leaves people broken and crippled, physically, emotionally, socially, mentally and even spiritually. Gunshot wounds can cause victims to have pains in their bodies for the rest of their lives, and some never regain full functionality.

How can anyone say that adversity is a source of growth?
    And as for the worst of the worst, just look at victims of sexual abuse and other forms of child abuse. There is no strength that is gained from that hell! To say that is to belittle the lifelong struggle of those that have been through such trauma.

    The agony from such abuse is so great that it actually leaves indelible scars in their neural pathways. This is not to say that they cannot overcome those experiences, or eventually become able put those experiences for the service of others, but there is absolutely no form of strength or goodness found in the abuse itself. There is no justification to “offend one of these little ones”.

    Just as being shot never grants an immunity to bullets, so too does abuse not grant immunity from emotional pain. Obviously there is no such filth in any degree of Glory, where His will laws are supreme. So this brings us to the question: why is there pain at all? Why allow for this tortuous painful hellish existence to continue?

    I will cover more fully the purposes of
pain elsewhere, so for now I will state the cause of pain, and what we can learn from that. This fundamental cause of misery can be summed up in one word: imperfection.

    This can come from either sinning and transgressing Eternal Laws, or in other words the Laws of Life, both physical and spiritual, or from weakness due to the flesh or due to our spiritual immaturity. That is why study and exercise can be strenuous and painful. Not because it confers growth, but rather because we are imperfect and weak.

    Let us first cover the first and worst source of our pains, which is our transgressions. As Moroni stated: “despair cometh because of iniquity.” Now this is not to say that only sinners despair. This stems from the difference between sin and iniquity. Iniquity is the filthiness that cometh from sins. The Lamanites were an iniquitous people, though not all of them were sinners. This means that they were under the bondage of sin caused by their forefathers.

    What this means, however, is that our breaking of His laws causes suffering in those around us. From that we create an influence of pain, that spreads or ripples out from us. Similarly all filthiness and ugliness are also consequences of transgression. Pain and suffering, disgust and revulsion all serve as a tool to gauge how far off course the actions or things are from the laws of perfection.

    This is not to mean that those that are ugly are to blame for their ugliness, nor does it mean that those that are in pain have sinned. Rather it means that something or someone has broken these laws for the pain to exist now. How or when the law was broken and by whom is not to be judged by us.

    In any case, whether the pain is a direct result of our own sin or the sins of others it matters little, for all it means is that there is something that needs fixing, and fix we must. We need to acknowledge the pain, and seek to rectify it at the source. This too is part of the seeking, asking, and knocking that we have been commanded to do.

    And so this brings us to the second source of our pain, which is our weakness. If there is a problem or a deficiency in our spiritual well being, it causes us to be weak. While some are born with greater weaknesses than others, all of us are weak when compared to the Divine. Compared to Him, we are all spiritually immature.

Abraham's test of faith pained him, not due to wickedness
on his part, but due to his weakness as a mortal.

    Even one of the greatest, even father Abraham had his moments. When he was commanded to sacrifice his son Isaac, he was pained horribly as a father. It took him back to his own traumatic past when his own father tried to offer him as a sacrifice to idol gods. Of course anyone who loves their son would be sorely grieved to be commanded to do such.

    But this time, Abraham's suffering was not due to his sins, but rather due to his imperfection. He had sought out the Lord and had wrestled with Him spiritually, in order to obtain great blessings. His seeking is what prompted the Lord to grant him this gift, the gift of knowing Christ, through this experience.

    And so it is that if we seek after Him, sometimes we find ourselves in pain because of our immaturity and weakness. Just as when we begin to exercise we feel pain, when we seek spiritual growth, there can be similar pains.

    In Ether 12:27 we note: “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness.  I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.

    Being shown ones weakness or imperfection can be an unpleasant experience. But only through acknowledging our worthless and fallen state can we truly grow.

    Just as we can come to accept the burning feeling in our muscles that comes from exercise, and just as we can come to enjoy the toil that comes of study, it is entirely possible to come to accept those humiliating feelings that we feel when we draw before our god. As both a runner's high makes the burn feel light, and our mental inspiration makes studying no longer a chore, so too does a spiritual high makes our weakness immaterial, as we know that god's grace is buoying us up to overcome all.

    So the next time you face adversity, in your own life or in the lives of others, don't take it as though you are inflicted with a horrible curse. Instead it is an opportunity. We live in an imperfect world, that we may serve, and be served. How can I feed the hungry, if there is no hunger? How can I liberate the captive if none are in bondage? How can I prove my love for those close to me, if they need for nothing?

    We are blessed that we live in this day and age, where the sins of the world, from the fall of Adam until now, are all coming to a head. We have been given the opportunity to serve as instruments in His hands to help begin to heal the world of the suffering inflicted by the sins of our fathers.

    It is because of the Atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ, that we are able to have this hope of being able to save and heal the world. It was He who could heal people with a word, then why could He not heal us? His eternal light and love heals all that it touches, and I testify that if we continue to seek his light, that we will become conduits of His light to others, whereby both we and they may be healed; of this I testify. Amen.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

On the Atonement

This cup is the new testament in my blood:
this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.
    We often hear the phrase “I know the Gospel is true” thrown about in church. However what does that even mean? What exactly is the Gospel?

    In 3 Nephi 27 Christ has said: “Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you—that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me.

    And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil—

    And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works.

… And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end. …

    Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel;

    We can clearly see from this scripture that Christ’s atonement is the core of the Gospel. But again we have a dilemma. What does this new word Atonement mean? Let's take a quick look at the etymology of the word.

    Initially the word Reconciliation was used instead prior to the 16th century. Reconciliation comes from the Latin roots which mean “to sit with again”. However around 1526 a man named Tyndale struggling to translate the Bible into English felt that that reconciliation lacked the full meaning behind the Hebrew root “kaphar”, and so invented the word by combing the words at and onement. The word “one” pronounced “own” was formerly a verb which meant unite.

    However if we take a closer look at the Hebrew root, we find that the meaning of “kaphar” isn’t quite so straight forward. Firstly as it is a root word, many seemingly unrelated words are derived from it. If we take a closer look we can see that the different meanings associated with this word convey another layer of meaning to help us understand the Atonement.

    While I won’t go into detail (there is enough information to talk for hours on the subject), there are four generally accepted meanings for the root word “kaphar”, which are wiping, covering, a ransom, and a protection. Wiping clean of sin, covering in blood of the Lamb, ransoming our souls and protecting us from the effects of sin are all parts of the whole meaning of the word Atonement. The importance of this word is found throughout the law of Moses, as it is found in the Old testament 110 times, 86 of which are in the 5 books of Moses alone!

    The question remains however, why is the atonement necessary? Let us go back and consider the word “Gospel” by itself. It comes from the Old English words God and Spell, which mean good tidings or good news. Now to truly understand the good tidings that Christ’s work represent to us, we must first understand what it is, that He has saved us from, or in other words the bad news (see 2 Nephi 2:10 & 11).

    Whenever we read of the prophets in the scriptures attempting to convert the wicked, they always start with the fall of Adam, and the reasons for our wickedness. We need to understand these things to truly understand the Atonement of Christ.

    Now there are many things upon this mortal earth which are part of the bad tidings from which Christ has saved us, disease, famine, sickness, poverty, but none are so universal as the big two, Sin and Death. Let us first concentrate on sin.

    In 1 Corinthians 15:56 we read “The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.” We also read in 2 Nephi 2:5 “And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil. And the law is given unto men. And by the law no flesh is justified; or, by the law men are cut off. Yea, by the temporal law they were cut off; and also, by the spiritual law they perish from that which is good, and become miserable forever.

Does Good ever pay for Evil on the scales of Justice?
     As we have just read the strength of sin is the Law. There is a common misconception which is that Justice weighs people’s actions, with the good on the one hand and the evil on the other. If good outweighs the bad, they go to heaven, and if not they go to hell, or some other form of punishment. However the one thing that people forget is that in mathematical terms, good and evil are linearly independent. You may wonder what that means, so let me try to explain using an example.

    Imagine if you will that you have on you a $100 bill. Now suppose your friend Pat comes along and steals that one hundred dollars. Later on Pat feels remorse, and returns the money. On the other hand let us suppose another friend of yours, let’s call them Jamie, comes along and gives you $100. Later on they feel regret, and take back the money they gave you.

    If we add up the score from these previous situations, assuming that the deeds they have done cancelled each other out, we’re left completely neutral. They did neither good nor bad. Your feelings toward both of your friends should remain the same, right? WRONG. Jamie’s kindness does not change the fact that they let you down later on, nor has Pat’s harmful actions undone his repentant return.

    No amount of good justifies evil, nor does any amount of evil, erase kindness. If this were not so, we would be no different than any religion that believes that you can pay money for your sins.

    Donating money to Charities is obviously a good thing. If that can in any way shape or form pay for the evil you have done, then all you have to do is calculate the amount necessary to pay for your sins, and you can get off scot-free. Heck, you could pay in installments, or even pay ahead of time, if you plan on sinning later on. No, that is not the way the Lord works. Good and evil interact with each other and oppose each other, but they cannot erase or cancel each other out.

    So this leaves with the question, how does justice work? In Mosiah 2:21 – 25 it reads “I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.

    And behold, all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments; and he has promised you that if ye would keep his commandments ye should prosper in the land; and he never doth vary from that which he hath said; therefore, if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper you.

    And now, in the first place, he hath created you, and granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him.

    And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast?

    And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay. Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth; yet ye were created of the dust of the earth; but behold, it belongeth to him who created you.

He has already blessed us more than we can ever repay.
    Now from this we can see that we are ultimately blessed for any good that we do. Thus this entire portion of the equation must be removed and placed separately. We now have two balancing scales. The good that we do paid for by blessing from god, upon which, we are indebted to him for even the ability to do good, to breath, to live, for every moment of our lives. This is something we cannot pay back or return.

    Thus it is that we are infinitely indebted to him for eternity, which leaves us with our bad actions left over to be judged. This is already plenty of reason to have infinite gratitude toward him who has created us.

    Now I want you to think of what happens when you go before a judge. Does he give you candy for doing good deeds, or community service? No, you are there to be judged whether or not you have broken the law. Unfortunately in the eternal sense, we are all guilty of breaking eternal laws, which none can dispute.

    Now back to the example of the scales of justice, we have already established that the good we do, in no way affects or pays for the bad we have done. Remember also that we are accountable for any good we do not do, which leaves us with a huge mess of sins which must be paid for. Now how do we pay for such sins if the good we do does not pay for them?

    Let us read from Alma 42:16 – 22 “Now, repentance could not come unto men except there were a punishment, which also was eternal as the life of the soul should be, affixed opposite to the plan of happiness, which was as eternal also as the life of the soul.

     Now, how could a man repent except he should sin?  How could he sin if there was no law?  How could there be a law save there was a punishment?

     Now, there was a punishment affixed, and a just law given, which brought remorse of conscience unto man.

     Now, if there was no law given—if a man murdered he should die—would he be afraid he would die if he should murder?

     And also, if there was no law given against sin men would not be afraid to sin.

     And if there was no law given, if men sinned what could justice do, or mercy either, for they would have no claim upon the creature?

     But there is a law given, and a punishment affixed, and a repentance granted; which repentance, mercy claimeth; otherwise, justice claimeth the creature and executeth the law, and the law inflicteth the punishment; if not so, the works of justice would be destroyed, and God would cease to be God.

     From this we see plainly that the only way for justice to work is for there to be a punishment for each and every sin we commit, just like there is a blessing for every good deed that we do. What is that punishment you may ask? Firstly we must suffer for the sins that we have caused.

    In D&C 19:16 – 20 we read: “For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;

     But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;

    Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—

    Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.

     Wherefore, I command you again to repent, lest I humble you with my almighty power; and that you confess your sins, lest you suffer these punishments of which I have spoken, of which in the smallest, yea, even in the least degree you have tasted at the time I withdrew my Spirit.

Our death does not undo the consequences of our filthiness,
all it does it prevents us from continuing to harming others.
    Here we see that that the withdrawal of the spirit of god is the similar to the pains that Christ himself suffered when he atoned for our sins, and which we must suffer according to god’s justice. This withdrawal of the spirit is also called Death of the spirit, in other words our punishment is spiritual execution.

    As we know it says many times throughout the scriptures that no unclean thing can enter the kingdom of heaven. This is the reason why that death or spiritual separation from god is a necessary punishment to protect those that are in heaven from our filthiness.

    Now, many wrongly assume that if I were to simply pay for my sins then I would be absolved of all wrongdoing, and then be saved. See 2 Nephi 28:8. However in this they err, as no amount of payment is able to undo or break the bands of death, be it physical or spiritual, which brings me to my next point which is death.

    Let us look at a prime example of life and death, namely our bodies. When our body is alive we have a heart beat, which beats regularly but never repeats the same beat twice, because it operates on the principles of a feedback loop. Another example of such a system is the weather, which never repeats the same cloud formations, yet it operates in patterns which we all recognize as the seasons, but never do any two years repeat each other. Our bodies work in the same way maintaining a homeostasis; to survive day to day never acting in the exact same way twice, yet repeating normal bodily functions even on the cellular level.

   However all such feedback systems have certain bounds and conditions which must be met in order to maintain that steady state. Any bounds and conditions which are broken affect the entire system, which then spirals down into an irreversible state of
absolute equilibrium called death. If the system is imperfect in any way, the bounds will inevitably be exceeded, and thus the eventual result is to fall naturally to that great attractor called death.

   We all already know the scriptures which state that all things must fail except for charity. We live in a continual state of death and decay, where everything in this world will eventually wind up dead or destroyed, that is the natural way of things. Our bodies, our minds, our hearts, our talents, our families, our communities, our economy, technology and learning, our governments, even nations, civilizations, and even the world itself is doomed to reach a point of critical failure sooner or later. Nothing in this world can be relied upon, which is why it says many times in the scriptures not to trust in the arm of flesh.

   Another point about death is that is irreversible without a large outside force. No man here can possibly bring themselves back to life in any way. Once you die, that’s it, game over, no undoes reloads or retries.

   The same goes for spiritual death. We are all spiritual mortals, and are doomed to eventually be cast out fully from god’s presence, which is endless misery.

   This is very bad news. However that is what is so wonderful about this life. As nothing can be relied upon in this life except for god there are always opportunities to return and turn to him, see Ether 12:27.

    A consequence of the bad news that I have already expounded, nothing in this world can truly satisfy the soul. As Alma said “Wickedness never was happiness” (see Alma 41:10). All things in this mortal world of ours that we try to use to sate our desires, and fill our souls eventually dies, and as a consequence, drags us down to death along with them. Whether it be drugs, alcohol, fulfilling our carnal appetites, or various forms of entertainment, these things which our society venerates and desires above all else, all end in death. They all decay, and in turn we decay with them.

The world tries to fulfill us by bombarding us through our
physical senses, but this onslaught only serves to drown us.

    In Isaiah 29:8 we read “It shall even be as when an hungry man dreameth, and, behold, he eateth; but he awaketh, and his soul is empty: or as when a thirsty man dreameth, and, behold, he drinketh; but he awaketh, and, behold, he is faint, and his soul hath appetite: so shall the multitude of all the nations be, that fight against mount Zion.

   This is precisely what happens when we attempt to fill our souls with the things of this world. They cannot satisfy, nor can they quench the thirst in our souls. We must remember the words of Jesus as recorded in John 6:35. “And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.

    This is where we finally get to the good news. As I have just quoted, Christ can fill the hunger and the thirst in our souls, and we shall never hunger again. His atonement and the knowledge of what he has done for us is the only answer to finding true happiness.

   Brethren and sisters, remember the example I gave of our sins being on a scale, along with the punishment, death on the other side. There is nothing I personally can do to overcome that death, but here is where Christ steps into the picture. He is the only one who has overcome death, by going through it, and by surpassing it through the resurrection! I have the ability to die, like anyone else, but there is no way for me to reverse that process without god. Christ was able to overcome death by means of his divine heritage.

    Now this does not change the fact that I am still going to die both physically and spiritually, or that I have sinned. I personally, am powerless against my sins, and against the consequences thereof by my own power. However if I give myself up to Christ, giving him ownership of my soul, which is the same as taking upon us His name, then he assumes responsibility for my sins, with the condition that I will quit.

   If I continue to revel in my sins, to not throw away my wicked desires, then I reject his offer and am left to fend for myself and must therefore face the full wrath of justice on my own. If I do accept his offer, then He will give me the power to overcome my sins, that is what the grace of god is brethren and sisters, it is the power that the atonement grants to those with a broken heart and contrite spirit that turn to Christ, see Alma 42:23-26.

   This is the hope spoke of in Moroni 7, for I am of myself an imperfect being, but with Christ I am made whole. His power is what allows me to continue forward with an eye of faith, to finally be able to rejoin him in heaven, and this hope, this strength, this light, this mercy and love is what enables me to overcome all.

    Brethren and sisters, this is the absolute power of the atonement. The bleak picture of sin and death which I have explained, this hopeless meaningless existence, this world where nothing can be relied upon, is transformed into a world where I am finally given a choice. The choice to find what I truly want in eternity, whether it be God or Sin, is my choice, and that is the beauty of this horrible and yet wonderful life.
His condescending sacrifice to voluntarily die for us, even as
the Son of God, was what has finally defeated death itself.
   He can make me whole, where the world will destroy. And all these things which before would fail are also made whole through Him, even our bodies, our families, our communities, our nations, even the whole world itself is made whole, when it is built upon his divine principles. Justice is no longer the enemy, but rather becomes the ultimate protector of those that rely upon Christ’s mercy. None of us deserve his love, we have all transgressed and rebelled against god, and yet he in his unselfish mercy has his arms stretched out still.

    Brethren and sisters, I have tasted of his mercy and his love, not a fullness, but enough to say that it is real. He died and came back to life for ME. We all know that he died for the world, but that means nothing unless you can truly say that he died for your filthiness and wickedness.

    Returning to the word kaphar, of all the meanings that it has, the one that stands out the most to me is cover. He covers my back, He covers for my sins, He covers me in His divine love which protects against filth and darkness, says “I've got it covered” whenever I make a mistake, and covers the price in my stead. He truly “kaphar”s or covers me and for my weakness.

   When one understands all that Christ has done for us personally the words in John 3:16 come to life. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

   Brethren and sisters, the dream spoken of in 1 Nephi 8 and 11, can only be understood if one understands the atonement of Jesus Christ.

   We read “And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me: Look! And I looked and beheld a tree; and it was like unto the tree which my father had seen; and the beauty thereof was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the whiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow.

   And it came to pass after I had seen the tree, I said unto the Spirit: I behold thou hast shown unto me the tree which is precious above all.

   And he said unto me: What desirest thou? And I said unto him: To know the interpretation thereof.

   Now I ask you what was shown to Nephi when he desired to know what the tree symbolized? He beheld Mary give birth to Jesus Christ.

   After which the angel asks him “Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?”, whereupon Nephi was finally able to answer, “Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things.

   Brethren and Sisters Jesus Christ is the physical manifestation of Heavenly Father’s love for us. His atonement is the means by which he sheds his infinite light and love upon all of us, and provides us with the way to return to him.

   Jesus Christ died on the cross for me, and more importantly he lives for me. His resurrection, his conquering of death and hell is the most important and most glorious blessing that god has bestowed upon us. I know that he lives brethren and sisters, of this I testify. Amen.