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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Lectures on Faith 5: The Prodigal Mormon

Are you the same person you were 15 years ago?

I mean, do you see important doctrines the exact same way you did 15 years ago? Or, would you say that through further study, maturity, prayer and time, your understanding of certain doctrines has evolved?

That's true for me. And I'm fairly certain it can be true for you, too.

It's been my experience that serious students of the gospel tend to evolve in their insights over time. I don't think any of us see all truths, in all their clarity and completeness, right off the bat.

So, how about Joseph Smith? Do you think he "knew it all" in 1820, when he experienced the First Vision?

Nope. I think we can safely assume Joseph never had a complete understanding of the gospel in 1820. Nor did he when Moroni, John the Baptist, Peter, James and John or other heavenly messengers visited him. Like me, like you, and dare I say like a lot of us, Joseph grew in his understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ as his life unfolded.

Let's return to the spring of 1820 for a minute. Although we believe that Joseph saw Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ in the Sacred Grove, it's an assumption that Joseph KNEW God had a body of flesh and bone from his First Vision. Look -- according to Joseph, Father appeared, then said, “This is my beloved son, hear him”. As far as we know, that was the extent of the Father/Joseph interaction. When you examine all the First Vision versions, there's no evidence Father explained himself to Joseph. Nor do we see any evidence that Joseph physically interacted with Father as the apostles did with a resurrected Christ.

Fast forward to 1834, when the Lectures on Faith were written. On August 17, 1835, "a unanimous vote" of the church's membership accepted the compilation as "the doctrine and covenants of their faith" (History of the Church 2: 243–46). We read in Lecture 5:2 that
"The Father being a personage of spirit, glory and power: possessing all perfection and fulness: The Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, a personage of tabernacle, made, or fashioned like unto man, or being in the form and likeness of man, or, rather, man was formed after his likeness, and in his image;"
The Father is a personage of what? Spirit? Yep, that's what it says.

Fast forward again to 1841. All of a sudden, we see an explosion of statements from Joseph discussing the corporeal nature of God's body.

  • On January 1841, he said, "That which is without body or parts is nothing. There is no other God in heaven but that God who has flesh and bones" (Ehat and Cook, Words of Joseph Smith, p.60).  
  • Six weeks later, "Joseph said concerning the Godhead [that] it was not as many imagined—three heads and but one body; he said the three were separate bodies" (Words, p.63). 
  • Then on March 9, 1841, he declared that "the Son had a Tabernacle and so had the Father" (Words, p.64). 
  • In early 1841, he taught, "the Son [has] a tabernacle and so [does] the Father, but the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit without tabernacle" (Quoted by William P. McIntire, reporting a discourse given by Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, Illinois; William Patterson McIntire, Notebook 1840–45, Church Archives). 

And on April 2, 1843, Joseph delivered the basis for D&C 130:22–23:

"The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us." (D&C 130:22)
So, we see two different descriptions of Father by Joseph: one (circa 1835) that He's "a personage of spirit", and others (six, then eight, years later) that He has a body of flesh and bones.

Many anti-Mormons believe that Joseph "made up" his knowledge of God, because his statements do, in fact, contradict each other over time. Joseph never explained the discrepancies. Some believe that this supposed contradiction was a catalyst for the Lectures on Faith being yanked from our compilation of scriptures.

A question for you: Have you ever heard of "Occam's Razor"? It's the scientific principle that, all things being equal, the simplest answer is usually the right one.

To me, the simplest explanation of this difference is this: Joseph's knowledge of Father's physical characteristics evolved over time.

Line upon line. Precept upon precept.

After all, as we agreed above, many people's knowledge of gospel doctrines evolve over time. We don't "know it all" right off the bat. Why would Joseph be any different?

Missing the point...big time.
Why Debates About Lecture on Faith 5 Miss The Point 

Please click here for my "About" page -- it has a compilation of quotes from prophets and apostles old and new who all say the same thing: It's your privilege to seek God and to know Him, speak with Him, and even see Him, face to this mortal life!

Yet instead, many people would rather argue and debate whether Joseph screwed up or made up the corporeal nature of God. Such find it easier to look down, than up. To find fault, not faith. To debase, instead of divinely seek. It's no wonder that Brother Brigham declared,
"There is no doubt, if a person lives according to the revelations given to God's people, he may have the Spirit of God to signify to him His will, and to guide him and direct him in the discharge of his duties, in his temporal as well as his spiritual exercises. I am satisfied however, that in this respect, we live far beneath our privileges" (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 75). 
Translation: We are all entitled to revelation. Unfortunately, in most cases, we live far beneath our potential.

OK, OK, maybe Brigham was talking about the pioneer saints. But in this quote, Elder Neal A. Maxwell was talking about US:
"The gift of the Holy Ghost truly is one of the greatest blessings available to members of the Church. Actually, many gifts can come from the Holy Ghost. These are needed in every age and dispensation but certainly no less in the commotion-filled last days of the last dispensation. They are likewise needed at every stage and in every situation of life. ... Yet, for different reasons, many of us live far below, or are unaware of, our privileges!" (Neal A. Maxwell, The Promise of Discipleship, pp. 92-93).
In fact, for some -- even those who are members of the Lord's church -- the Gift of the Holy Ghost lies dormant.

"The overall gift of the Holy Ghost truly is one of the greatest blessings available to members of the Church. We all need to stress-for ourselves and for those whom we teach-the vital connection with the gifts of the Holy Ghost. These gifts are vital at every stage of an individual's life and in every situation of life. Members of the Church have received the gift of the Holy Ghost, but in many it lies dormant-somewhat like the ancients who had received the gift but knew it not (see 3 Ne. 9:20)." (Neal A. Maxwell, "The Holy Ghost: Glorifying Christ," Ensign, July 2002, p. 56).

The Hard Core Truth Regarding Your Status Before God 

The Joseph Smith Translation alters the Sermon on the Mount slightly:
"Wherefore, seek not the things of this world but seek ye first to build up the kingdom of God, and to establish his righteousness, and all these things shall he added unto you" (JST, Matthew 6:38).
Instead, what do we seek? In his June, 1976 First Presidency Message, "The False Gods We Worship", Pres. Spencer W. Kimball addressed the Saints by saying:
"The Lord gave us a choice world and expects righteousness and obedience to his commandments in return.  But when I review the performance of this people in comparison with what is expected, I am appalled and frightened. Iniquity seems to abound.  The Destroyer seems to be taking full advantage of the time remaining to him in this, the great day of his power.  Evil seems about to engulf us like a great wave, and we feel that truly we are living in conditions similar to those in the days of Noah before the Flood."
President Kimball said that 41 years ago. What do you think he'd say now?

The fact is, like ancient Israel, we have gone whoring after false idols:

  • We idolize images (movies, TV, videos) above God. 
  • We legitimize carnality in our culture to such an extent, that we kick the poor away, replace their areas with Babylon (and its images) and call it "beautification". 
  • We devote more time and money to organized sports, more lavish homes, more lavish business headquarters, more lavish cars, more lavish clothes, than to the poor. 
  • We not only trust in the arm of flesh, but also make up excuses why we should. We literally bet our lives - and the lives of our families - that it's totally fine with the Lord entrust their lives in the arm of flesh.
  • We do not receive truth (see D&C 45:57). Instead, we deprioritize seeking spiritual knowledge, spiritual gifts and meaningful prayer. Anyone conducting a dialogue with God is considered whacked.
  • We do not take the Holy Spirit for our guide (see D&C 45:57). We instead idolize celebrities and leaders, even church leaders, and passionately encourage others to do the same. 
  • We are deceived (see D&C 45:57) into worshipping nature, Babylon and mammon. We call those things which are abominations before God "acceptable", "tolerable" or "none of my business".
  • We make the institutions of mammon respectable by using the beautiful name of Zion. Zion Investments, Zion Used Cars, Zion Construction, Zion Development, Zion Bank, Zion Leasing, Zion Insurance, Zion Securities, Zion Trust, Zion Assisted Living, Zion Brewery, Zion Computer Consulting, Zion's Cooperative Mercantile Institution, and so on (total businesses in Utah with "Zion" in their name: 1,175).

And for this, we call ourselves "The Lord's Chosen People", "A Righteous Generation" with "Noble Birthright". "The Elect of God". Even "The Anointed".

Another kind of self-congratulatory word we jokingly use to describe ourselves is "gentiles". That's OK, because Brother Joseph did, too, when he said (in his dedicatory prayer of the Kirtland temple),
"Now these words, O Lord, we have spoken before thee, concerning the revelations and commandments which thou hast given unto us, who are identified with the Gentiles." (D&C 109:60)
"almost without exception, of those who come into the Church in this dispensation have the blood of two or more of the tribes of Israel as well as the blood of the Gentiles." (President Joseph Fielding Smith. Answers to Gospel Questions, 5 vols., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1957–66, 3:63)
I'll be blunt: We are lying to ourselves if we think we are any of these chosen, righteous, noble, elect statuses. Because the truth of the matter is, I mean, the thing most people won't tell you because it's an inconvenient truth, is that
  • "there is none that doeth good" (Psalm 14:1; 53:1-3)
  • "It is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: their feet are swift to shed blood: destruction and misery are in their ways: and the way of peace have they not known: there is no fear of God before their eyes." (Romans 3:10-18
  • O how great is the nothingness of the children of men; yea, even they are less than the dust of the earth." (Helaman 12:7)
  • "Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed." (Moses 1:10)

Oh, and that Gentile status of ours? Nephi said to us (Gentiles):
"Hearken, O ye Gentiles, and hear the words of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, which he hath commanded me that I should speak concerning you, for, behold he commandeth me that I should write, saying:
Turn, all ye Gentiles, from your wicked ways; and repent of your evil doings, of your lyings and deceivings, and of your whoredoms, and of your secret abominations, and your idolatries, and of your murders, and your priestcrafts, and your envyings, and your strifes, and from all your wickedness and abominations, and come unto me, and be baptized in my name, that ye may receive a remission of your sins, and be filled with the Holy Ghost, that ye may be numbered with my people who are of the house of Israel." (3 Nephi 30:1-2)
Moroni perfectly described this state of affairs around 1,600 years ago:
"O ye wicked and perverse and stiffnecked people, why have ye built up churches unto yourselves to get gain? Why have ye transfigured the holy word of God, that ye might bring damnation upon your souls? Behold, look ye unto the revelations of God; for behold, the time cometh at that day when all these things must be fulfilled.
Behold, the Lord hath shown unto me great and marvelous things concerning that which must shortly come, at that day when these things shall come forth among you.
Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.
And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities; and your churches, yea, even every one, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts.
For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.
O ye pollutions, ye hypocrites, ye teachers, who sell yourselves for that which will canker, why have ye polluted the holy church of God? Why are ye ashamed to take upon you the name of Christ? Why do ye not think that greater is the value of an endless happiness than that misery which never dies—because of the praise of the world?
Why do ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not?" (Mormon 8:33–39)
Guess who these last verses were written to:
"Moroni’s last words to the members of the Church are written as a voice of warning. He writes as one who sees the history of his people repeating itself in the future. [Elder Perry then read Mormon 8:34-38]]. I guess one of the greatest mysteries of mortality is why mankind fails to learn from history. Why do those who profess to be true followers of Christ so often become victims of the enticements of the world?" (Elder L. Tom Perry, October 1992 General Conference).
Elder Perry gave his talk 25 years ago.

How do YOU think we gentiles -- especially us chosen, righteous, noble, elect, anointed ones -- have done since then?

Let's get real for a minute: With all these facts in mind, we can narrow down a description of our (your and my) true status before God to just one word:

1. spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant.
2. having or giving something on a lavish scale.

Which Brings Us to the Parable of the Prodigal Son

Jesus' Parable of the Prodigal Son appears in Luke 15:11–32.

"And he said, A certain man had two sons:
And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.
And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.
And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.
And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.
And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.
And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!
I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,
And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.
And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.
But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:
And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry:
For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.
Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing.
And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant.
And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.
And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and entreated him.
And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends:
But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.
And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.
It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found."
What do you think was the turning point in this story? What changed it all around?

Having experienced the misery of his prodigal status, we now observe his recovery from it. In a spiritual sense,
  1. He came to himself. He was humbled. 
  2. He actually envisioned returning to his father and repenting.
  3. As a repenting sinner, and notwithstanding fears and discouragements, he resolutely threw off the shackles of Satan and then literally returned to his father. 
Now look at how his father reciprocated:
  1. He saw his son "when he was yet a great way off".
  2. He had compassion on his son.
  3. He ran to his son, fell on his neck and kissed him.

"Make This a New Beginning of Another Life"

What's especially noteworthy is what the father then did. He clothed his son in:

The robe: This may be the robe of righteousness, which we read about in Isaiah 61:10:
"I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels."
The ring: Speaking of ornaments and jewels, the ring is an emblem of wealth, position and honor. It hearkens back to when Joseph was declared second in power to Egypt's Pharaoh, and Pharaoh himself placed a signet ring upon Joseph's finger.

The shoes: This may symbolize the fact that God prepares us with all the equipment we need for future service, and for every step along the way. It's undeniable that in life's journeys, we are bound to encounter foul places in all our paths. When we must pass through them, if we are wearing something else than our own naked selves, we have a better chance of avoiding defilement. God gives the penitent, if he or she will have it, that which will keep their feet from soil, even when they walk amidst filth.

The three items the father clothed his son in pertained to the past (his overcoming sin with righteousness), the present (position of power and honor) and the future (or preparation for it).

Please remember this:

God's giving always follows His forgiving. 


God forgives...and then gives some more.

God's giving far, far exceeds anything we prodigal sons and daughters had even remotely envisioned. As proof, I'm reminded of the Brother of Jared:
  • In Ether 2:14, the Brother of Jared returns and (in verse 15) repents for not remembering to call upon the name of the Lord.
  • In Ether 2:16-Ether 3:5, the Brother of Jared approaches the Lord and asks Him to touch the 16 stones for light.
  • Then, through the remainder of Ether 3, we read of the Lord surpassing any and all expectations the Brother of Jared had by unveiling Himself -- and "all the inhabitants of the earth which had been, and also all that would be; and he withheld them not from his sight, even unto the ends of the earth" (verse 25) -- to the Brother of Jared.
This is because God "is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us" (Ephesians 3:20).

The prodigal and the Brother of Jared. Both were humbled. Both repented. Both returned to God. Both were not only forgiven, but also given, far beyond their expectations.

Sometime, if you have the chance, I'd like you to see a form, a variation, of this in action.

The TV series "Undercover Boss" is available on Hulu. Season 6 Episode 1 is really cool -- you need to watch it. It's about John Hartmann, True Value Hardware's President and CEO, going undercover to investigate the True Value of his employees. At the 23:15 mark, we see "Lewis" meeting store clerk "Lexi". Later, we learn that Lexi can't see her dreams of becoming an aesthetician become a reality, because she was expected by her mother to become a nurse, and because nursing school was so expensive, she had to live with her grandparents -- a very humble place to be. Towards the end of the episode, John gave Lexi $5,000 for her housing needs and $10,000 to enter into and complete aesthetician school. Then he paid off the $50,000 in student loans Lexi had accumulated. Lexi walked into that closing interview expecting practically nothing from John, and came out utterly and completely overwhelmed by what John described as "A Fresh Start".

My fellow prodigal, you have two choices:

  • On one hand, you can hang with the swine. Maybe you'll doubt God, His nature, maybe his very existence. In any event, you'll live your life so you're far away from Him.
  • On the other hand, you can integrate what you learned from the prodigal son and the Brother of Jared. Envision God. Approach Him in humility, with a broken heart. Then ask for His forgiveness.

I can promise you that, in time, He will more than meet you halfway. And in so doing, you will be utterly, completely overwhelmed with the blessings He will shower upon you.