Friday, July 14, 2006

Jennifer (3 of 3)

You, observant reader, have probably noticed that this post will have three, not two, parts. Perhaps you are hoping the last chapter in this saga contains a miracle, an epiphany, the story of Jennifer running into the chapel just at the end of Sacrament Meeting and later explaining to us the resurrection of her testimony after a long night of doubt. I, too, wish the story ended that way; and perhaps that will happen some day. For now, however, the story ends as I have already described, with a "letter of resignation" delivered to the Bishop (Jake and Jennifer, incidentally, drifted apart and eventually broke up some months before these latest events).

This story, however, affords us an opportunity to look to ourselves and learn. Jennifer says she left the Church because we do not accept Christ's grace in the way she believes we must. Such a belief is complicated, as are all perceptions, by the fact that it is, by definition, of dual nature. Every perception involves both the perceiver and the perceived. I can do little, I suppose, to change the perceiver in this case. What processes play themselves out in Jennifer's head I do not know; what complexities she brings from her former religion, experiences, friends, and family are mostly a mystery to me. I can, however, at least comment on the belief she perceives we have—on her perception that we downplay the importance of Christ's sacrifice. This belief, of course, is hardly unique to her; many of the Church's critics site this same supposed problem.

My brother, for instance, was once teaching an investigator in a public library when an unknown lady approached the missionaries and the investigator and said, "Don't listen to them—Mormons remove Christ from his thrown and place themselves there instead!" That this belief holds such wide sway troubles me deeply because I believe our canon so clearly refutes it--we, of all people, should be quick to affirm the infinity, grandeur, depth, breadth, centrality, and uniqueness of the Atonement.

For me, one of the most telling scriptures as to the importance of the Atonement in LDS theology comes in section 138 of the Doctrine and Covenants. This section, after all, is very "Mormon," describing, as it does, the spirits "assembled awaiting the advent of the Son of God into the spirit world." The concept of the Spirit World, as described here, is, so far as I know, unique to the religion(s) restored by Joseph. Furthermore, Joseph F. Smith describes a uniquely Mormon congregation of prophets and righteous leaders, including, as his list does, "the prophets who dwelt among the Nephites and testified of the coming of the son of God," as well as, "The Prophet Joseph Smith, and [Joseph F. Smith's] father, Hyrum Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, [and] Wilford Woodruff."

That a modern Mormon prophet should have a vision of his predecessors--Biblical, Nephite, and American--does not surprise us. What might be surprising to some, however, is what I consider the focal verse of this section. For, after viewing this vast assemblage of the Savior's faithful servants, Joseph sees the arrival of the Son of God into the spirit world, which he describes this way: "And the saints rejoiced in their redemption, and bowed the knee and acknowledged the Son of God as their Redeemer and Deliverer from death and the chains of hell."

When we learn that "every knee shall bow," then, we are not speaking only of the small and simple among us, but also of the spiritually mighty--even the light of the “noble and great ones” pales before the brilliance of the Bright and Morning Star.

The expansiveness of Mormon theology invigorates me; it is, as Elder Maxwell would say, "inexhaustible." As W. W. Phelps wrote near the dawn of this dispensation: "The visions and blessings of old are returning, and angels are coming to visit the Earth.... The knowledge and power of God are expanding; the veil o'er the Earth is beginning to burst." Joseph Smith responded to Emerson's call for modern prophets and the Pentecost that subsequently burst upon Kirtland, Independence, and Nauvoo is surely one of the great spiritual outpourings in the Earth’s history. For the believing Saints, a window of some twenty-five years included the opening of the heavens, the restoration of Priesthood, the bestowal of new scriptures, the return of the sealing power, the introduction of vicarious ordinances, and the return of the new Testament Church. Let us assure, however, that we always remember that this glorious burst of Gospel light nevertheless does not negate the importance of the central act of history: the Atonement of Jesus Christ. As planets circling the sun, or as spokes turning about the hub, all aspects of the Gospel are, as Joseph once wrote, appendages to the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Without that, everything else—from the creation, to the fall, to the restoration, to the Latter-days—is for naught. Christ is, indeed, the Life; for without Him nothing else breathes nor moves. It is his sacrifice, which ultimately gives meaning and substance to all the rest.

This testimony I have gained, mostly, from my study of the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. I share President Hinckley’s incredulousness that the Christian world does not embrace the Book of Mormon (though I guess I’m not surprised, since the Book of Mormon prophecies of the same). For me, there is no greater testament to the divinity of the Son of God than the Book of Mormon. For a partial list of scriptures that affirm the centrality and importance of the Atonement, I might read the following:

Title Page
1 Nephi 8:10-12
1 Nephi 10:10-11
1 Nephi 11:13-24, 31
1 Nephi 19:8-10, 23
1 Nephi 21:10, 15, 16
2 Nephi 2 (esp. 7 and 8)
2 Nephi 4:31-34
2 Nephi 6:9
2 Nephi 7:7
2 Nephi 9 (esp. 5-8, 41)
2 Nephi 10:24
2 Nephi 11:4-7
2 Nephi 17:14
2 Nephi 19: 2, 3, 4, 6, 7
2 Nephi 25:19, 20, 23-27
2 Nephi 31:5-21
2 Nephi 33: 4, 6, 9-11
Jacob 1:7, 8
Jacob 4:4-18
Jacob 5:47
Jacob 7:11-12
Jarom 1:11
Omni 1:26
Mosiah 3-5 (esp. 3:5-11, 15-17, 19; 4:2-9; 5:1-8)
Mosiah 13:27-35
Mosiah 14:2-7
Mosiah 15
Mosiah 16:6-10
Mosiah 27:24-32
Alma 5:6-16, 19, 21, 26-27, 33, 48
Alma 7:3, 9-15
Alma 9:11, 26, 28
Alma 11:40-44
Alma 16:19
Alma 18:39-41
Alma 19:6, 13, 14, 29
Alma 21:7-9
Alma 22:12-18
Alma 24:10-11, 13, 23
Alma 25:15-16
Alma 30:39
Alma 31:31, 38
Alma 33:11-17, 22
Alma 34:8-16
Alma 36 (esp. 17-21)
Alma 38:8-9
Alma 39:15-19
Alma 42:14-24, 26-27 (esp. 23)
Helaman 5:12
Helaman 8:13-23
Helaman 14:11-17
3 Nephi 7:16
3 Nephi 9:14-22
3 Nephi 11-28 (esp. 11:11-15; 15:8-10; 22; 27:13-27)
Mormon 3:21
Mormon 5:14-15
Mormon 7:5-10
Mormon 9:12-14
Ether 3:1-20
Ether 12:4, 41
Moroni 4:3
Moroni 5:2
Moroni 7:22-48
Moroni 8:12, 22, 23
Moroni 9:22, 25, 26
Moroni 10:30-34

It is partly because I so dearly love these verses that Jennifer’s defection from the Church stings me so deeply. My study of the Book of Mormon has given both birth and wings to my testimony of the Savior—I cherish the knowledge the Book of Mormon gives me about Christ.

One final theological note: Mormon theology’s insistence on our giving our “all” does not detract from the magnitude of Christ’s sacrifice. As I have already articulated, Jennifer specifically quoted “by grace we are saved, after all we can do” as a major reason she left the Church. Her argument was that Mormons think less of the Atonement because we believe our utmost is also necessary for us to gain salvation. Someone much smarter than me could write a full treatise on the interplay of grace and works in Mormon theology. For my purposes, however, suffice it to say that Christ has always made clear—in the Old and New Testament, in the Book of Mormon, and in modern scripture—that we must offer up a contrite heart if we are to be exalted. That is, nothing less than all we have to give will suffice.

While this commandment is demanding, however, it also actually reminds us of the Atonement’s vast power to save. For us, after all, “all” we can give will often be relatively little. Only perfection merits God’s presence, and all of us fall woefully short of that mark; only through the Atonement can any of us enter into the presence of God. Just as importantly, it will not matter, at the judgment day, how much our “all” was. For some, especially, this all will have been very little—circumstances, environment, genealogy, and weakness dictate that many of us fall even more short of the mark. At the judgment day, however, it will not matter how much our all was, as long as it was everything we had to give. The Atonement makes the objective sufficiency of our effort irrelevant—Christ, who has descended below everything we face—will know perfectly how hard we tried. And, in the end, it will be that—our effort, not the result—along with the perfection and infinity of His atonement that will ensure those who come unto to Christ and find perfection in Him a place in the Kingdom of God.


Anonymous Dave said...

I especially agree with your concluding thought "it is our effort-not the result." If all Christianity could understand this concept, the gap between LDS thought and mainstream Christian thought would not seem as large. Members of the LDS church do not believe their actions will save them. They do, however, believe that faith in and use of Christ's Atonement (shown by following his commandments) will grant them entrance to the presence of the Father.

10:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Book of Mormon has so many factual errors that I consider it 100% fiction. Joseph Smith fabricated this out of thin air. The great Prophet Smith was wrong many,many,many more times than he was ever right. Joseph Smith was a pathological liar, a cheat, a womanizer, and probably a sex addict. The Mormon religion cares about only one thing - MONEY - Follow The Money, Honey!

11:22 AM  
Blogger Wade said...


Joseph Smith fabricated this out of thin air.

If, as you say, he fabricated the BOM out of thin air in his early 20s, one could consider him one of the greatest writers in history -- this is true even if you do consider it "100% fiction" because he would have to make up every story-line and allegedly fictitious name without any reference material.

I suggest looking into sources that approach the veracity of the Book of Mormon other than those claiming it as a work of fiction. Such a one-sided approach is not intellectually honest.

Also, if your intent is to win Mormons to your side of the argument, you may want to consider a less harsh tone and a more rational approach -- appeals to emotion don't go too far in your rhetoric.

12:45 PM  
Blogger Ryan said...

The Mormon religion cares about only one thing - MONEY

Interesting. There's not really anything I can think of in all of LDS canon that suggests that its members ought to seek after riches. I would be interested to see documentation of anything remotely along those lines (even if it's a stretch, I'll humor the argument).

The closest thing I can think of would be the commandment to pay tithes and offerings.

Unfortunately this command comes from the Bible and as such serves only to align Mormonism with Christianity (and since it's the OT, Judaism as well as some others I am not smart enough to be aware of)

Besides, tithing is all re-invested back into the church that Mormons are members of so it's no different than financially supporting the symphony or a museum or some other non-profit whose members receive some sort of emotional/spiritual edification in return for their financial donations.

1:55 PM  
Blogger OKIE said...

Yeah, What they said. -

2:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't shoot me I am only the messenger (or am I the piano player?) Sorry for my poor attempt at Mormon humor. I will try to better in the future. Or as the great Mormon comedian Henny Young(man) once said, "Take my wives! Please!"
Im just glad that you did not object to me calling Joseph Smith a pathological liar, a cheat, a womanizer, and a sex addict. Im glad we agree on these historical facts.
As far as the money issue goes, please let me know where and when I can examine the financial records of the LDS. The LDS financial records are more closely guarded than the gold in Ft. Knox. You Mormons slay me.

6:48 PM  
Blogger Wade said...

As far as the money issue goes, please let me know where and when I can examine the financial records of the LDS.


First you say: "The Mormon religion cares about only one thing - MONEY - Follow The Money, Honey!" Then, you say: "please let me know where and when I can examine the financial records of the LDS. The LDS financial records are more closely guarded than the gold in Ft. Knox."

Excellent presentation of argument and reasoning! Apparently, you claim that following the money will reveal something; then claim it is impossible to know anything about LDS financials. This amateurish display leads me to dismiss you entirely.

As for your attacks on the prophet, they are similarly unpersuasive due to your inability to provide any substance; try arguments that don't contain fallacies. As of now, your ad hominem attacks are old recycled anti-mormon trash.

7:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No one runs faster from their past than a Mormon.

5:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:14 AM  
Blogger tyler said...

Dear Readers--

I welcome comments from those of all persuasions and opinions. I have deleted the comment above because it was extraordinarily long and because it did not relate in any pertinent way to this post. Also, I invite all commentators to maintain a civil and intelligent tone.



6:29 PM  
Blogger Wade said...

Sorry Tyler, the thread-jack was entirely my fault; I should know better than to engage in such discussions. I'll avoid them here in the future; normally I just can't help myself.

9:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In typical Mormon fashion you have chosen to ignore the truth and squelch the facts. Mormons have been doing this since day one. Its shameful, but since you have such long and storied history of such behavior it is completely understandable. You should have said, " I welcome all opinions as long as I agree with them."

8:03 AM  
Blogger tyler said...

Dear Anonymous,

I am saddened that there is such misunderstanding between us. I have no intention of squelching the truth or ignoring the facts, though I did erase one comment whose length was entirelt inappropriate.

I do not, for instance, agree that "The Book of Mormon has so many factual errors that [it is] 100% fiction," but that line still appears on my blog as part of comment number two. Similarly, I do not agree that the Mormon religion cares exclusively about money or that Joseph Smith was a sex addict; you will, however, also find those comments still on this page. Certainly, this is not about squelching opinions, just overly-long comments.

8:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(Feel free to correct anything I've misunderstood. -A) From my very limited knowledge of Mormon theology, the concept of some personal responsiblity for atonement is one of my favorite beliefs of the Church (and not just because it's one of my religion's tenets as well =). I know that I am biased, as my background prevents me from really understanding the concept of effortless forgiveness - in religion or in interpersonal relationships.

On (arguably) the biggest Jewish holiday of the year, members of the religion are bade to ask for forgiveness of everyone they have wronged (over the past year), of themselves and of God. This idea really speaks to me because I think it acknowledges both humans' imperfections and potential. I know it's a silly joke about the man who prayed to God every night to win the lottery and became angry each next day when he didn't until God supposedly said, "You have to help me out: go buy a ticket!" but it just seems so strange to me to think that one wouldn't even try to help.

I once asked P about praying about something and what happened if one didn't get a clear answer. I don't recall the words of her exact response, but it struck me (pleasantly) that she didn't think it was all going to fall out of the sky. Sometimes, when I come to a conclusion after thinking about something that's been troubling me, I wonder if it was my idea or if God didn't sort of place it there for me to discover. That sounds really silly, and I've never actually told anyone I think this way, but I guess it might be my low-grade version of the kind of spiritual response P's told me about. I'm not sure if that made any sense, but I just wanted to say I've been thinking about this a bit.

9:31 PM  
Blogger tyler said...

Is this anonymous Dan? I'm going to assume this is not the same anonymous as the the anonymous who made the second comment in this thread...

10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope I don't come off as ornery as the first anonymous poster. And I don't think Dan likes me very much because I gave him a hard time about P, so, nope, not him. I thought the Judaism thing would help, but perhaps not. I'd rather not post my name in a public forum, but if you need help for ID purposes, you can ask P.

8:05 AM  
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