Jesus in the Modern World

whosayiamIn the New Testament books of Matthew and Luke, Jesus was praying alone with his Disciples when he asked what people thought of him. They answered according to Matt 16:14, “Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets,” with Luke 9:19 adding he might be, “one of the old prophets [who] is risen again.” He then asked what they thought, and one of his chief Apostles Peter answered boldly that he was the Christ of God (Luke 9:20) with Matt 16:16 adding “the Son of the living God.” Peter essentially was claiming that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah come down to save Israel. There was no rebuke, but an acknowledgement by Jesus that is exactly who he was, and praising his spiritual insight as coming from God. Considering the violent ending of those who claimed the Messianic mantle, Jesus warned them the same fate was coming. Peter rebuked him for saying such negative expectations, and Jesus rebuked back that Satan inspired rejecting the path he was destined to walk.

Who do men say that Jesus is? Today the question is no different than when Jesus and his Disciples walked the dusty road of Jerusalem. What might be surprising is the answers. They go from the mundane of lucky preacher who gained literate followers to the traditionally religious grandiose God and Savior of the world. Like the days of his life and death, he is both mocked and praised. It could even be said that while there is a sizable world wide number of believers in his Divinity, he is slowly becoming obscure or irrelevant. This is opposite the rival religion of Islam and some other Eastern faiths. The Western views that kept Jesus “alive” have changed over the last few centuries. He is in metaphorical fragments.

It wasn’t always like this. During the first great upheaval of arguments over his identity, the questions asked exactly how divine was Jesus in relation to God. The answer more than a millenium ago, that remains the cornerstone of most modern definitions of the Christian faith, proclaimed he was God in a different form. During his life, he was likewise both fully Man and fully God. The creed of Jesus was set and a catholic church dominated, until what came to be known as the reformation sprouted Protestantism. Despite serious disagreements, for the most part Protestants shared the same creed as the church they left. Whole countries developed around particular Christian identities and churches, defending and fighting among themselves for dominance. For centuries Jesus was a driving force for both good and evil actions of history.

That began to change a century after the “enlightenment” when people started to focus more on the mind than on the spirit. For the past two centuries views of who Jesus is and was began to be questioned in ways never before taken seriously. The answers have become so mixed and branching that one method employed actually used voting over a color scheme to decide the truth about Jesus. The colors represented the probability of what Jesus did or said, ultimately to determine who he was. Most likely these new questions and the modern views they inspire came from the relatively recent Western culture of skepticism. Answers have become less important than questions about history, authority, and existence itself. Science and academics, positive as they have been, is the new religion with scientists and professors the theologians; politicians the Priesthood authority. Jesus is quickly, to the ecstasy of many, becoming sidelined. Continue reading

Seeing with an Eye of Faith: Visualize Your Desired Future

A remarkable phrase shows up a number of times in the Book of Mormon. It involves “looking forward” with an “eye of faith” to a desired result in the future. The idea is that if there is something that you sincerely desire, you should use your inner “eye,” or your imagination, and picture yourself as already being there or having what you want.  Through your faith that it is possible, you can begin to see yourself as having already reached your goal.

In the book of Alma 5:15-16, Alma preaches to the people about the goal of being received into heaven when their life on Earth is over.  In order to direct them toward that goal, he asks them if they can imagine how things will be at that future time when they finally get there. As they “look forward with an eye of faith,” what kind of outcome do they see? He asks:

15 Do ye exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you? Do you look forward with an eye of faith, and view this mortal body raised in immortality … to stand before God …?

 16 I say unto you, can you imagine to yourselves that ye hear the voice of the Lord, saying unto you, in that day: Come unto me ye blessed, for behold, your works have been the works of righteousness upon the face of the earth?

What Alma is trying to have his audience do is to visualize their own future in minute detail. They are to imagine being resurrected and raised to stand before God.  They are to imagine themselves hearing the approving voice of the Lord accepting them into heaven — reaching their ultimate goal.  He suggests that if they try to visualize this scene and what they envision is only negative, then perhaps they need to find that balance in their lives so that the way they are living is in alignment with a positive outcome and then exercise their faith so that they are now headed in this more desirable direction.

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“And There Are Many Kingdoms”: D&C 88 and the Hierarchy of Kingdoms (with Insights from the Dead Sea Scrolls)

As I mentioned in my last post, I recently had the opportunity to lead a discussion in my ward on the topic of Doctrine and Covenants 88. One of the most interesting topics which we delved into was that of the multiple kingdoms of glory as they are described in that section. That discussion reminded me of some material I had posted on my blog, Heavenly Ascents a few years back.  I went back and reread that post and thought it would be nice to revisit it here.

D&C 88 discusses the idea that God has filled his Creation with various “kingdoms” that can be inhabited by his children. Verse 37 states:

37 And there are many kingdoms; for there is no space in the which there is no kingdom; and there is no kingdom in which there is no space, either a greater or a lesser kingdom.

This declaration suggests that the cosmos is somehow divided up into various kingdoms and that within these kingdoms are subdivisions that constitute smaller kingdoms within the larger ones.  The revelation describes how these are categorized by their degree of glory — celestial, terrestrial, telestial, or no glory — and how God’s children become assigned to a specific type of kingdom based on their adherence to the laws designated for each type. In verse 47, the revelation states that all of these kingdoms, although they be inhabited by mankind, are subject to God.

47 Behold, all these are kingdoms, and any man who hath seen any or the least of these hath seen God moving in his majesty and power.

Although God himself reigns over all of the kingdoms as King of kings and Lord of lords, He has prepared these kingdoms for his children to inherit. The revelation presents the example of the Earth and declares that it will be sanctified and “celestialized.” Inhabitants that live the law of celestial glory will, when they have been resurrected and obtained that glory, inherit the celestial Earth.

26 Wherefore, it shall be sanctified; yea, notwithstanding it shall die, it shall be quickened again, and shall abide the power by which it is quickened, and the righteous shall inherit it.

27 For notwithstanding they die, they also shall rise again, a spiritual body.

28 They who are of a celestial spirit shall receive the same body which was a natural body; even ye shall receive your bodies, and your glory shall be that glory by which your bodies are quickened.

29 Ye who are quickened by a portion of the celestial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness.

The ideas presented in D&C 88 reminded me of a concept found in the Dead Sea Scrolls (and elsewhere) which concerns the idea that there are several levels of heaven and that each level has an appointed chief or guardian who rules over it.  This is actually a fairly common theme in Jewish and Christian apocalyptic and mystical literature (See, for example, the Jewish Hekhalot literature or the Jewish/Christian Ascension of Isaiah).  As one ascends to the throne of God in the highest heaven, one must pass first through the several (usually seven) firmaments or “sub-heavens” before reaching the highest, where God is present. Each level is generally inhabited by a different class of angels, and in many texts, there is a principal angel or guardian who guards the door to the next level and who sometimes is depicted as having his own throne.

Before I get into some more specific details regarding how this motif is represented in the Dead Sea Scrolls, I want to share another latter-day parallel to this ancient type of thinking.
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Human Evolution and the Children of God

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From the day that Darwin published The Origin of Species followed by The Descent of Man (his The Voyage of the Beagle making less waves), it seemed to clash with Judeo-Christian beliefs. The very names were sure to cause consternation for those having faith in the Bible creation narratives. It was clear that God made animals and man fully formed from the dust. There would be no “intermediary” or physically “primitive” ancestors. A war has waged ever since with few conciliatory moves.

The story as traditionally told, and interpreted by the Bible reading, is that God created the Earth as a Garden of Eden with fruit bearing plants and a wide variety of animals. Man was then created by the dust and sprang fully formed and intelligent. Seeing that the man named Adam was alone, God created woman from his rib as a help meet and named her Eve. They lived in total bliss and ignorance.

Satan in the form of a snake tempted Eve with an unnamed fruit, later symbolized as an apple, that would give her forbidden knowledge. She then gave it to Adam who knew she would be kicked out of the Garden and both be alone. Recognizing they were naked, the man and woman covered themselves with leaves. When God discovered they had mentally awakened to understand good and evil, the two were indeed kicked out with the tree of Eternal Life protected by a flaming sword. Death entered the world for all earthly creations. The man and woman were given coats of skins as clothing and banned from God’s presence with only the Word of God to remind them of who they were and where they came from. For Christians, Jesus Christ was the Savior who died so that Adam and Eve’s mortal children could repent and be resurrected.

According to the theory of Evolution, the formation of animals and humans was far more complicated even if easier to explain. No recognizable Adam and Eve existed as the progenitors of modern mankind, although genetic research has uncovered a man and a women who lived thousands of years apart who could be given those designations. Instead, a species of ape (not monkey) produced a group of bipedal primates that eventually evolved into the Homo family that modern humans remain as the only survivors. We didn’t reach up for fruit in the branches of trees, but came down from them.

At first glance there is nothing in common between these two versions of human formation and history. The Bible has a deliberate and focused viewpoint. Evolution twists and turns over millions of years with many dead ends and what would seem random forces at work with no inevitable conclusions. Desperate as they seem, it isn’t impossible to allow them to exist together if rigid interpretations of both are loosened with some charity. Continue reading

A Possible New Creation Narrative

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My personal blog Straight and Narrow Blog has a quote from Joseph Smith on the masthead that reads, “it is necessary for us to have an understanding of God himself in the beginning. If we start right, it is easy to go right all the time; but if we start wrong, it is a hard matter to get right.” Nothing demonstrates this more than the Creation and Evolution debate. How a person understands God can determine if these two concepts will conflict or mesh. I believe that Mormonism is especially prepared to confront long standing difficulties that traditional Christianity has developed. The Mormon rejection of ex nihilo and its teachings about the “pre-existance” hold huge potential.

Continuing where I last left off is to start at the beginning. Most orthodox narratives start at a point in time, even if they claim the eternal timelessness of God. The physical existence came from nowhere and there was nothing more than God that came before. This is the reason Creationism has such a huge religious hold on many. Mormonism, by contrast, looks at everything both physical and spiritual as having no start and no end. Its a liberating concept.

I want to first warn that none of what I am about to explain is official doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or any other member. These are my own ideas and speculations only, no matter if shared by others. Long and ponderous thinking and praying has produced a personal belief that can always be amended with more revealed truth and knowledge. With that said, lets move forward by going back. Continue reading