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Monday, December 22, 2008

Agency in the Eternities

Q. Why didn't God create all His children to be like Christ?

This is a very good question, if we are all God's children and He has created us, why do we have imperfections and Christ did not have any? Also related to this question is another we received, "Do Mormons believe that some people are better than others?" To answer these questions, I would like to go far back to before this world was created, when we all lived as spirits in the presence of our Heavenly Father.

To the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord said, "Before I formed thee in the belly, I
knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations." Jeremiah 1:5 That is to say, the Lord knew Jeremiah even before his birth. He knew his strengths, his weaknesses, his personality and his potential. That also means that Jeremiah, as all the rest of us, had developed those traits by that point.

Bruce R. McConkie wrote the following about how we came to be as we are:
“All the spirits of men, while yet in the Eternal Presence, developed aptitudes, talents, capacities, and abilities of every sort, kind, and degree. During the long expanse of life which then was, an infinite variety of talents and abilities came into being. As the ages rolled, no two spirits remained alike. Mozart became a musician; Einstein centered his interest in mathematics; Michelangelo turned his attention to painting. Cain was a liar, a schemer, a rebel. … Mary and Eve were two of the greatest of all the spirit daughters of the Father. … And so it went through all the hosts of heaven, each individual developing such talents and abilities as his soul desired.” (The Mortal Messiah, 4 vols. (1979–81), 1:23.)

It then follows that each individual chose a path before this life and through diligence and care to follow our Father's guidance, each individual grew to varying degrees. The reason, then, that Christ is perfect and was able to fulfill His Father's will perfectly in carrying out the Atonement was because He used his agency, or ability to choose, more wisely than others. He became like His Father.

The Book of Abraham gives a rare description of Jesus in the pre-earth life:
"And there stood one [Christ] among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell; And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them." Abraham 3:24-25
That ability to choose is still available for us in this life and is the very reason that we are here. Every day we have the choice between following our Savior, Jesus Christ, and otherwise. Thus, through our choices, one person can excel in music, another in athletics, another in science and another in kindness, love or patience. Others can choose not to excel or to develop traits of laziness, procrastination and anger. Our options and potentials are limitless in either direction and everyone has parts of both.

The atonement of Jesus Christ plays the greatest part in our development. It is through His grace that we can correct our faults and that He can heal our wounded hearts. And then through His guidance, we will be able to grow and choose the good, better, and best things in our lives.

See also: Our Moral Agency by Elder L. Lionel Kendrick

Monday, December 8, 2008

Prophetic Prophets

I have been amazed as I have reviewed the addresses from our prophets and apostles during last General Conference (October, 2008). They spoke right to the difficulties that were coming with the economic crisis and the backlash against the church for proposition 8. Even though I have long believed that they can see "down the hall and around the corner", re-reading and listening to their talks confirmed it for me yet again.

And so I thought, these inspired men are such a blessing and a resource in my life--everyone should know what they are saying. Which, obviously, is the point of broadcasting General Conference. For those of you who are interested in what modern-day prophets and apostles are advising, here is a summary of the things that they have really emphasized lately:

  • Stay out of debt. Ezra Taft Benson spoke about this back in 1987! They have been warning us to avoid unnecessary debt for decades. Hmm, do you think they anticipated the calamitous financial crash of 2008? You betcha. It takes years to get out of debt, once you have accumulated it, so they gave us plenty of time to be free of it. Unnecessary debt is consumer debt. They say that the only things that are okay to take out loans for are school and a home. You should buy everything else when you can afford to buy it.
  • Stay away from pornography. The apostles and prophets started emphasizing this before the internet really made its public debut. David B. Haight spoke about it in 1984, referencing the magazines, books and movies that were addictive and destructive. Since then there has been a steady crescendo both in intensity and occurrence in warning people to stay away from pornography. "Treat it like the plague" is sound advice. So many homes are broken by this addiction. It destroys relationships.
  • Store a year's supply of food and have extra money on hand for hard times. The prophet and apostles have stressed self-sufficiency for, well, forever. They have advised us to accumulate everything that we would need for a year or more. Recently, with the talk of an upcoming flu pandemic, they have really stressed at least putting away a 3-month supply of food (the time it would take for the quarantine to be lifted). This is seriously important advice. EVERYONE needs to put away enough to live on for three months. Do it. Whether you are Mormon or not.
  • Be modest. Modesty in dress and speech and action demands respect and honor. This counsel is directed mostly at teens, but everyone benefits from this counsel. So many women are treated as objects both by men and other women--girls are advised to take back their self-respect by not presenting themselves as just a "body" to be admired, but a mind, heart, and soul--a complete person. Modesty protects. Modest doesn't mean wrist and ankle-length clothing (though, undeniably, that is modest), it means covering your shoulders and cleavage. Not wearing anything too high (much above the knee) or too low or too tight (all of this applies to boys too). Tattoos and mulitple piercings are also in this category. Any time you wear something that attracts all of a person's attention to your body, that is immodest.
  • Law of Health (Word of Wisdom). This has been reiterated since the time of Joseph Smith. The Word of Wisdom has been addressed on this blog before, but basically there are do's and don'ts. Do: eat healthy foods, in their season, and in moderation. Don't: Drink strong drink (alcohol), hot drinks (coffee and tea), or use drugs unwisely (legal and illegal). If you want to be healthy, follow this counsel and add to it exercise and preventative check-ups.
  • Family time. The family is the central unit of society and of the church. Church leaders have encouraged us to have "Family Home Evenings" once a week (Mondays), family prayer and scripture study daily, and engage in family activities often. Nothing comes before the family (except our own personal relationships with God), not even Church activities or functions. Have family dinners as often as possible. Talk to your children/parents openly. Doing so will strengthen your family which will, in turn, help school work, self-esteem, friendships, trust, careers--everything. When a family is strong and children know that they can rely on their parents, that relieves a great burden from them and they can use their energy to excel.
There are more, but these are the things that our prophets have been advising us to do with the most fervor currently. They may seem like common sense, but how many of them do you really do? Those who follow this counsel are blessed to be happy, healthy, and prepared for the future. I encourage you to do it too. And if it seems unlikely that we would have a contemporary prophet in our time, remember that that is what Noah's contemporaries thought too. And look where it got them.