Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Through Languages

I want something like this, I don't know if it exists yet, but I think it'd be neat: 

 1 Nephi: Nephi -> Joseph Smith (translator) 

 2 Nephi: Nephi -> Joseph Smith (translator)


 Zenos (Jacob 5): Zenos -> Jacob (transcriber)? -> Joseph Smith 


 Mosiah: Mosiah -> Mormon (abridged) -> Joseph Smith (translator) 

 Zeniff (Mosiah 9-22): Zeniff -> Mosiah (scribe)? -> Mormon (scribe)? -> Joseph Smith (translator) 

Alma (Mosiah 22-23): Alma -> Mosiah (abridged)? -> Mormon (abridged)? -> Joseph Smith (translator) 

 Ether: Ether -> Moroni (abridged) -> Joseph Smith (translator) 

Basically, the "lineage" of all the different authors' works in the Book of Mormon (as such is manifest in the book itself), from the time they were originally written to the time that Joseph Smith translated them into English. The idea here is to document all the hands involved and their role. So, for instance, Zeniff's account in the book of Mosiah reads like it was essentially added directly into the plates, so the "lineage" could go Zeniff -> Joseph Smith (translator). However, it appears in the middle of the book of Mosiah, and it's entirely possible that it was copied onto the plates by Mormon, in which case we'd have Zeniff -> Mormon (scribe) -> Joseph Smith (translator). Further, it's possible that Mormon simply transcribed what Mosiah had written at that point in his record, so really the lineage would look like: Zeniff -> Mosiah (scribe) -> Mormon (scribe) -> Joseph Smith (translator). Thus I have it listed above with question marks as, so far anyways, I haven't found a clear indication of exactly how Zeniff's record was physically added to the Book of Mormon. I guess I've kind of started this above, so perhaps I'll finish it (someday) if I can't find a preexisting version someplace.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018


Moses 4:1-2

1 And I, the Lord God, spake unto Moses, saying: That Satan, whom thou hast commanded in the name of mine Only Begotten, is the same which was from the beginning, and he came before me, saying—Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor.

2 But, behold, my Beloved Son, which was my Beloved and Chosen from the beginning, said unto me—Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.
[emphasis mine]


I have often wondered, what's so wrong with Satan's plan as laid out in these verses? I like the idea of everyone being "redeem[ed]", and I think that's a worthy goal (even if it's just a goal). Certainly I believe God loves all of His children, so it seems natural to want everyone to make it safely home.

It's hard to be "against" that point of view on pretty much any level. And, really, I'm all for it. But I think there is a strongly implied undercurrent to this situation that, for a long time, I've missed. Satan never had any plans to love all of God's children. Nor did he want them to be "like" him; redemption is different from exaltation, and while I'm not sure if that technical difference is meant to be part of these verses, I tend to think Satan's version of Heaven meant a.) we were all "redeemed", but b.) he was to be the all-powerful God over us forever and we'd never share in the same experiences that he was having as God. So, while his plan sounds nice, it did not include love, mercy, or any sense of having a "Heavenly Father" that I believe in, theologically speaking.

I think this also implies that mercy vs. justice could have been, under Satan's plan at least, a zero-sum game. For instance, I feel that these verses take on a different meaning when we contemplate the idea of having either mercy, or justice, but not both:

Alma 42:25-27

25 What, do ye suppose that mercy can rob justice? I say unto you, Nay; not one whit. If so, God would cease to be God.

26 And thus God bringeth about his great and eternal purposes, which were prepared from the foundation of the world. And thus cometh about the salvation and the redemption of men, and also their destruction and misery.

27 Therefore, O my son, whosoever will come may come and partake of the waters of life freely; and whosoever will not come the same is not compelled to come; but in the last day it shall be restored unto him according to his deeds.


I think I'd go a bit further than Alma does in vs 25, namely that Justice and Mercy are, because of the Atonement, married in a way that prevents this zero-sum-game outcome. I feel that vs 26 can be read to support the idea that all "destruction and misery" in life comes from disobeying God's commandments, which IMO is not true. In my experience bad things happen and good things happen to me oftentimes no matter what, and that's one of the features of life that makes this world "telestial". There is not always a logical a -> b when it comes to suffering or success.

Why is it that way? This is one of the features of Satan's plan that gives a bit of comfort, namely that everyone will be redeemed. I've often wondered how he might go about accomplishing this. My current view of Satan, as a person, is that he wants all the trappings of God's power but fundamentally does not understand the "love" part of it. Thus his "plan" was to essentially spell it all out for us, give us thousands and thousands of pages of dos and don'ts so that we would have a perfect guide for how to live life. There was no room for error in his plan, and there is some presumption that there was also no room for growth. Regardless, there definitely was and is no room for love (in the forms of grace and mercy), and that is the main feature that sets his plan apart from God's. This, I believe, is why charity is listed along with faith and hope as one of the cardinal virtues, and perhaps _the_ cardinal virtue:

1 Corinthians 13:4-10

4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.

9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.

10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.


Thus the choice between God's plan and Satan's plan is about far more than choosing to have agency, I believe it's about choosing love in the face of imperfection. Thus "charity never faileth" -- love can be the one constant that overarches all other failings and imperfections in life.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Humans of the Book of Mormon -- Aminadab

Helaman 5:35-41

35 Now there was one among them who was a Nephite by birth, who had once belonged to the church of God but had dissented from them.

36 And it came to pass that he turned him about, and behold, he saw through the cloud of darkness the faces of Nephi and Lehi; and behold, they did shine exceedingly, even as the faces of angels. And he beheld that they did lift their eyes to heaven; and they were in the attitude as if talking or lifting their voices to some being whom they beheld.

37 And it came to pass that this man did cry unto the multitude, that they might turn and look. And behold, there was power given unto them that they did turn and look; and they did behold the faces of Nephi and Lehi.

38 And they said unto the man: Behold, what do all these things mean, and who is it with whom these men do converse?

39 Now the man’s name was Aminadab. And Aminadab said unto them: They do converse with the angels of God.

40 And it came to pass that the Lamanites said unto him: What shall we do, that this cloud of darkness may be removed from overshadowing us?

41 And Aminadab said unto them: You must repent, and cry unto the voice, even until ye shall have faith in Christ, who was taught unto you by Alma, and Amulek, and Zeezrom; and when ye shall do this, the cloud of darkness shall be removed from overshadowing you.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Humans of the Book of Mormon -- Omni

Omni 1:1-3

1 Behold, it came to pass that I, Omni, being commanded by my father, Jarom, that I should write somewhat upon these plates, to preserve our genealogy—

2 Wherefore, in my days, I would that ye should know that I fought much with the sword to preserve my people, the Nephites, from falling into the hands of their enemies, the Lamanites. But behold, I of myself am a wicked man, and I have not kept the statutes and the commandments of the Lord as I ought to have done.

3 And it came to pass that two hundred and seventy and six years had passed away, and we had many seasons of peace; and we had many seasons of serious war and bloodshed. Yea, and in fine, two hundred and eighty and two years had passed away, and I had kept these plates according to the commandments of my fathers; and I conferred them upon my son Amaron. And I make an end.


Thursday, January 5, 2017

Change of the Branches

Frankly, there are times in my life when I need a solid shot of optimism. For various reasons this is one of those times, and when I find myself in this situation I tend to turn to certain scriptures that I rely on to give me hope. My hope is, essentially, that the world is gradually getting "better" (from a spiritual perspective) and will continue to do so until the return of Christ. This runs counter to what I've been exposed to growing up in the Church specifically and Christianity generally, but I think it is a viewpoint that's strongly supported in the scriptures, and more particularly in the Book of Mormon.

For me, it starts with Jacob 5. This particular chapter in the Book of Mormon is one of the few "optimistic" apocalyptic scriptures in the LDS cannon. The dream recorded in Daniel of a stone cut out of a mountain without hands is another. In that dream, the stone grows and it rolls until it fills the whole earth. There is no stopping/restarting; the stone grows continually, which to my mind suggests the "good" in the world will be constantly increasing. In Jacob, we have a similar scenario, with the added bonus of the allegory being in chronological order (chronological order, or perhaps more precisely cause/effect are fairly strongly implied in Daniel as well). Pretty much every other apocalyptic scripture lacks a chronology, so this attribute sets Jacob 5 apart in my mind as a uniquely Mormon contribution to the apocalyptic literature.

The "good stuff" starts around verse 57 in Jacob 5:

Jacob 5:57-59

57 And the Lord of the vineyard said unto the servant: Pluck not the wild branches from the trees, save it be those which are most bitter; and in them ye shall graft according to that which I have said.

58 And we will nourish again the trees of the vineyard, and we will trim up the branches thereof; and we will pluck from the trees those branches which are ripened, that must perish, and cast them into the fire.

59 And this I do that, perhaps, the roots thereof may take strength because of their goodness; and because of the change of the branches, that the good may overcome the evil. [emphasis mine]


Most of the last days narratives I'm familiar with essentially posit that the world is constantly getting worse, and will continue to do so until the coming of Christ. This doesn't really give us much to do, other than try to amass as many "good" people as possible and hope that we dodge the shrapnel of the collapsing Babylon.

In Jacob 5, the Lord is joined by laborers in His vineyard, and they have specific things that they are asked to do to assist in the process of saving the trees of the vineyard. For instance:

Jacob 5:61

61 Wherefore, go to, and call servants, that we may labor diligently with our might in the vineyard, that we may prepare the way, that I may bring forth again the natural fruit, which natural fruit is good and the most precious above all other fruit.


This is not a time to hunker down in bunkers, circle the wagons, and await the impending apocalypse. Rather, it is a time to "prepare the way" for the natural fruit to appear again. As I reflect on history up to this point in time, it appears to me like "The Day Dawn is Breaking" (lyrics here), albeit over the course of centuries. I see it as beginning at the end of the Dark Ages, with the dawning of the Renaissance and the Reformation that lead to Protestantism. Us Mormons tend to view that as the "start" of the Restoration of the Gospel, a period of time in which events in history led up to those fateful years in upstate New York when Joseph Smith would either rock Christianity to its core or become one of the most successful charlatans of all time, or both (or neither?).

Anyways, somewhere around that time Mormonism seems to have taken a turn towards the apocalyptic. I think it began with the constant moving, being driven westward. The times certainly seemed apocalyptic, and as the pioneers marched off out of the United States and into Mexican territory, they may have envisioned themselves as marching into oblivion. I certainly would have thought that. Laman and Lemuel probably most accurately summarize how I might have handled that time in LDS history; our father/leader is crazy, and I'm really not interested in setting off to some strange land where I will die and everything I've known will die with me.

Thankfully, those who actually made that journey were built with stronger stuff, and despite all indications otherwise somehow found enough hope to creep through the crevasses of the rocks and into the valleys of the Rocky Mountains. Considering their experience, I can't fault those who might read Mormonism as a pessimistic take on human nature and the destiny of the world.

I like to read the book of Moroni with all that in mind. His time was similar, only a whole lot worse in many ways. He lost all of his family, all of his civilization, and then spent some amount of time (probably decades) wandering where he could to find safety and sustenance while avoiding those who would most likely kill him on sight. That is not exactly the recipe for optimism, so I find it interesting that, near the end of his own book, he quotes at length a speech given by his father Mormon in chapter 7 that is anything but dreary. We get to the meat of it around verse 20:

Moroni 7:20

20 And now, my brethren, how is it possible that ye can lay hold upon every good thing?


Indeed, I wonder this myself sometimes. Not just good spiritual things, but all the good stuff in the world. The 13th Article of Faith challenges us with "If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things." It can really be a challenge, not that there is a dearth of good things, but sometimes I lack the motivation to go out and find them, or support them, or do them, or incorporate them into my life. While I consider myself an optimist w.r.t. the "last days", there still are lots of branches bearing bitter fruit. Worse still, these branches aren't plucked off until they are fully developed. I think a lot of the nasty apocalyptic stuff in the book of Revelations in the New Testament applies here; as these branches grow and develop, they will cause lots of problems before they're pruned. But, they will all eventually be pruned if they don't develop good fruit.

This is why, I believe, they're allowed to stick around on the tree. Part of the job of those called in Jacob 5 to prune the trees is to keep the "tops" and the "roots" of the trees equal. The purpose of this is to overcome the "loftiness" (I read that as meaning pride, but it could be other things as well) of the vineyard generally. In other words, the things that I see that are wrong in the world are there to help me be humble. They do this by reminding me that I have more work to do, especially within myself. Also, who knows how the branches will develop until they're fully grown? Who am I to judge if a branch is good or evil during this process? After all, that bitter fruit could be me; nothing is set in stone in this process and the pruning has to happen in my own life too.

To that end, Mormon provides guidance on how to become a "good" branch. As he explains it, this is the role of faith, hope, and charity in the religious life of a disciple of Christ:

Moroni 7:26-32

26 And after that he came men also were saved by faith in his name; and by faith, they become the sons of God. And as surely as Christ liveth he spake these words unto our fathers, saying: Whatsoever thing ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is good, in faith believing that ye shall receive, behold, it shall be done unto you.

27 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, have miracles ceased because Christ hath ascended into heaven, and hath sat down on the right hand of God, to claim of the Father his rights of mercy which he hath upon the children of men?

28 For he hath answered the ends of the law, and he claimeth all those who have faith in him; and they who have faith in him will cleave unto every good thing; wherefore he advocateth the cause of the children of men; and he dwelleth eternally in the heavens.

29 And because he hath done this, my beloved brethren, have miracles ceased? Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither have angels ceased to minister unto the children of men.

30 For behold, they are subject unto him, to minister according to the word of his command, showing themselves unto them of strong faith and a firm mind in every form of godliness.

31 And the office of their ministry is to call men unto repentance, and to fulfill and to do the work of the covenants of the Father, which he hath made unto the children of men, to prepare the way among the children of men, by declaring the word of Christ unto the chosen vessels of the Lord, that they may bear testimony of him.

32 And by so doing, the Lord God prepareth the way that the residue of men may have faith in Christ, that the Holy Ghost may have place in their hearts, according to the power thereof; and after this manner bringeth to pass the Father, the covenants which he hath made unto the children of men.


We are aligned with the purposes of God and His angels by doing the things mentioned in vs 31 and 32, i.e. declaring the good word of God. The thing that makes God's word good is what He can do for us (more on that point below) and how we may respond to His gifts. There is a larger picture, though, which consists of helping all around us to "lay hold upon every good thing."

What are those good things? I think this list will vary, and should vary, by person. I see supporting real news as a good thing. I see supporting science and the process of inquiry as a good thing. I see providing emotional and physical support to help those around me experience peace and joy in their lives as a good thing. The nice thing about the Gospel is a.) everyone will have a different version of this list, and because of that b.) we're far more likely to actually cover all the good things as people with different viewpoints work towards promoting the good things that they feel are important in their lives. One reason I try to avoid politics/current events on this blog is I feel the Gospel is far larger than any human container we can devise to hold it. Thus my views of what's right and what's wrong are going to always be incomplete, and my human limitations are such that I can only do a limited number of things. Again, I feel this enjoins humility because people with whom I may strongly disagree in some ideological way can and do have vital contributions to make in promoting good in the world.

And, when I'm in that place where I'm accepting and being humble, I can then have hope:

Moroni 7:40-41

40 And again, my beloved brethren, I would speak unto you concerning hope. How is it that ye can attain unto faith, save ye shall have hope?

41 And what is it that ye shall hope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise.


The mechanics of "ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ" are, for me, the real meat of the Gospel and the crux of how these scriptures and the Gospel generally help me to have hope. My understanding of God is He's not interested in condemning people. Rather, He wants us to have joy, and to that end He sent Jesus Christ to die on the cross so that we could access His power in our lives, especially when we're not perfect. For a long time I felt that I had to be perfect before the "cleansing" of the Atonement applied, so this was a thing that would happen after I died and my purpose on earth was to do the best job I could at keeping the commandments and doing good things. I believe that a tally was being kept in heaven with a score of all the good and bad things I'd done, and if I got enough points on the "good" side then I'd finally receive the reward of having the stuff on the "bad" side eliminated from the tally. A number of years ago I had several experiences that changed my views, so that now I see God as wanting to partner with us to help us be better people, no matter where we are in our personal growth process:

Ether 12:27

27 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.


As I read it, this verse has a lot of a.) me asking, and b.) the Lord doing work. Humility is the main prerequisite, not perfection, in seeking and getting help from the Lord to change things that we can't change for ourselves ("then will I make weak things become strong unto them"). Why is it that way? Why do I have to rely on the Lord to do things that I can't do for myself, especially when it comes to my own spiritual growth process? As I mentioned above, the "bitter" fruit and the branches that produce that fruit help me in the process of being humble. So too does the grace of God, because He's doing the work and I am in no position to claim that I have changed myself. That's a really fundamental idea, having the humility to accept that my human nature prevents me from doing certain things, and I need God to step in and change my nature. No matter how hard I "work" spiritually, I can't change those things. The Lord has to do it, and because of that I am simply a beggar before God asking, and hoping, that He will.

Hence the pure love of God is expressed through His grace. He isn't helping me because I've earned His help, or I've done anything to be "worthy" in his eyes, He's helping me because He loves me. Humility in this context is more like acceptance; accepting ourselves as imperfect and accepting that someone else has to help us. For me, when that happen, my natural reaction is to then be that much more forgiving and charitable towards other people:

Moroni 7:46-47

46 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—

47 But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.


I see charity as the ultimate "good fruit" that a branch on the trees in Jacob's allegory can produce. I believe the process of living and using the Gospel and the Atonement is designed to cultivate charity, and from that the natural actions of people fall into line with the will of God. Continuing on with Jacob 5, we can see what the natural result of this process will be:

Jacob 5:66-69

66 For it grieveth me that I should lose the trees of my vineyard; wherefore ye shall clear away the bad according as the good shall grow, that the root and the top may be equal in strength, until the good shall overcome the bad, and the bad be hewn down and cast into the fire, that they cumber not the ground of my vineyard; and thus will I sweep away the bad out of my vineyard.

67 And the branches of the natural tree will I graft in again into the natural tree;

68 And the branches of the natural tree will I graft into the natural branches of the tree; and thus will I bring them together again, that they shall bring forth the natural fruit, and they shall be one.

69 And the bad shall be cast away, yea, even out of all the land of my vineyard; for behold, only this once will I prune my vineyard.


I see this happening on multiple levels. The Lord works this way in me; he's not out to destroy me, but to help me change for the better through His grace. The church is also going through this process, in that the "good" within the church will continue to grow and, as it does so, the "bad" will gradually diminish. The world is doing this as well. Consider, for instance, how far people have come in the last 200 years of history. Huge swaths of us once accepted slavery as "normal", and those who didn't had it imposed on them in a massively terrible trade that formed one of the main pillars of the global economy. While slavery still happens to day, it is on nowhere near the same scale, nor is its toll nearly as high. This trend will continue (perhaps with some bumps along the road) until the practice is completely abolished. Many, many other things are following a similar trajectory. Despite recent setbacks, generally speaking human "freedom" has steadily expanded over the last 200 years and continues to do so. Economic well-being has also spread, along with a number of advances in medicine and science, that have and will continue to improve life for everyone. As that happens, slowly but surely many of the drivers of negative human behaviors will diminish. I also see a strong trend towards establishing a morality of sorts that transcends religious divisions. Another example is Pope Francis, who has done God's work IMO in changing the tenor and practice of the Catholic church for the better. These are just a couple of many of the "arrows" of history that point towards a glorious conclusion. Our job is to help them along by using God's grace in our lives and expressing charity towards others, and according to Jacob's recounting of Zenos' allegory, we will:

Jacob 5:74-75

74 And thus they labored, with all diligence, according to the commandments of the Lord of the vineyard, even until the bad had been cast away out of the vineyard, and the Lord had preserved unto himself that the trees had become again the natural fruit; and they became like unto one body; and the fruits were equal; and the Lord of the vineyard had preserved unto himself the natural fruit, which was most precious unto him from the beginning.

75 And it came to pass that when the Lord of the vineyard saw that his fruit was good, and that his vineyard was no more corrupt, he called up his servants, and said unto them: Behold, for this last time have we nourished my vineyard; and thou beholdest that I have done according to my will; and I have preserved the natural fruit, that it is good, even like as it was in the beginning. And blessed art thou; for because ye have been diligent in laboring with me in my vineyard, and have kept my commandments, and have brought unto me again the natural fruit, that my vineyard is no more corrupted, and the bad is cast away, behold ye shall have joy with me because of the fruit of my vineyard.


Hence I have hope, despite current circumstances in many places, that things will get better. It is the will of God, and by using the tools He's given me I hope to assist in various small ways in that process.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Here a little and there a little

I used to wonder about why our prophets and apostles haven't written or translated more scripture of the canonized variety. We had a big burst of stuff with Jospeh Smith, but since then it's sort of trailed off. If our dispensation is the "fullness of times", doesn't that mean we get all the goodies?

Then one day I noticed something while reading Omni:

Heading, Omni Chapter 1

Omni, Amaron, Chemish, Abinadom, and Amaleki, each in turn, keep the records—Mosiah discovers the people of Zarahemla, who came from Jerusalem in the days of Zedekiah—Mosiah is made king over them—The descendants of Mulek at Zarahemla had discovered Coriantumr, the last of the Jaredites—King Benjamin succeeds Mosiah—Men should offer their souls as an offering to Christ. About 323–130 B.C. [emphasis mine]


I've found a lot to love about the book of Omni (the subject of a future post), but for this topic I find the highlighted dates most compelling. And, in 4th Nephi:

Heading, 4 Nephi Chapter 1

The Nephites and the Lamanites are all converted unto the Lord—They have all things in common, work miracles, and prosper in the land—After two centuries, divisions, evils, false churches, and persecutions arise—After three hundred years, both the Nephites and the Lamanites are wicked—Ammaron hides up the sacred records. About A.D. 35–321. [emphasis mine]


These vast expanses of time, in total about 500 years, span the whole spectrum of "righteousness", from warring Nephites who had to be continually reminded to keep the commandments, to the post-advent Nephites and Lamanites who lived together in harmony for well over 200 years. In both instances, the amount of scripture generated (or edited, as in the case of 4 Nephi 1) for posterity amounts to approximately two pages.

I doubt that the people during either period were so wicked as to preclude the reception of stuff that was worth writing down. In the previous instance (Omni), we have some indications about the thoughts of the authors (more on that later), but 4 Nephi 1 has nary a word about why the scriptures are pretty much silent for 200 years.

Writing scripture is hard. I'd like to think I could fake it myself, and perhaps others can, but in the end it takes a fair amount of time and effort to even presume to know what the Lord is thinking. I've read various other attempts and, generally speaking, they lack a few of the hallmarks of people grappling with putting divine things into human language. My list of reasons why they fail includes:

1.) A sense of inaccuracy of language. I talked about "transmission" in my previous post, and this is often where most attempts fail. They either a.) are too sloppy (as if the Lord didn't care about language or attempting to clearly state His point), or b.) are too grounded in human thought, generally restricted by binary logical reasoning or other fingerprints of human thinking.

2.) Too much "purity". Similar to point b above, most attempts I've read are too set on communicating a particular point. The scriptures I feel are "true", on the other hand, have all sorts of human bits to them. This is why I love Omni, but I'll go into that in more detail later.

3.) A constricted sense of "god". Consider all the various aspects of the divine one can find in the scriptures: The divine gives commandments, reprimands people, destroys cities, talks about divine love and a single lost sheep, blesses children and heals the sick, struggles with the imperfections of people, often sticks to certain themes and images, and still has a sense of mystery (not the kind that is "unknown" but of something "higher" than humans or human abilities (mentally, physically, etc)).

And, so, I've instead become grateful for those who have actually had divine experiences and written about them. It doesn't happen very often, and when it does it seems to follow its own internal logic, generally the logic of the situation mixed with that of various larger concepts. I hesitate to use the word "logic" here because of what that implies, as I definitely don't mean it in the scientific sense. For whatever reason, for instance, Mormon (who transcribed 4 Nephi) felt that a page would suffice to describe the most peaceful time in the history of the people of the Book of Mormon. Maybe he was constrained by time and circumstances -- he may have been writing those things while embroiled in various losing wars with the Lamanites. His mood probably wasn't the greatest at the time either, so we may have a truncated record because reflecting on a glorious recent past was too painful for him in his present circumstances. Certainly his writing on the period contains a fair amount of "nots", as in a litany of bad things that the people were not doing:

4 Nephi 1:15-17

15 And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.

16 And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.

17 There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.


So thanks, Mormon, for writing that. Considering the circumstance, I couldn't have done any better. Hopefully one day I can express my gratitude in person.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Transmission of Understanding

Note: I an indebted for a decent amount of the following to my father who, because of the semi-anonymous nature of this blog, shall also remain anonymous. His ability to think clearly about life continues to inspire me, as it has here.

I enjoy reading about how the Lord works with people, and through people, to do stuff. Often this requires imparting some sort of new understanding. Take, for instance, these two stories about boats (warning: long excerpts ahead):

Ether 2:16-25

16 And the Lord said: Go to work and build, after the manner of barges which ye have hitherto built. And it came to pass that the brother of Jared did go to work, and also his brethren, and built barges after the manner which they had built, according to the instructions of the Lord. And they were small, and they were light upon the water, even like unto the lightness of a fowl upon the water.

17 And they were built after a manner that they were exceedingly tight, even that they would hold water like unto a dish; and the bottom thereof was tight like unto a dish; and the sides thereof were tight like unto a dish; and the ends thereof were peaked; and the top thereof was tight like unto a dish; and the length thereof was the length of a tree; and the door thereof, when it was shut, was tight like unto a dish.

18 And it came to pass that the brother of Jared cried unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, I have performed the work which thou hast commanded me, and I have made the barges according as thou hast directed me.

19 And behold, O Lord, in them there is no light; whither shall we steer? And also we shall perish, for in them we cannot breathe, save it is the air which is in them; therefore we shall perish.

20 And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: Behold, thou shalt make a hole in the top, and also in the bottom; and when thou shalt suffer for air thou shalt unstop the hole and receive air. And if it be so that the water come in upon thee, behold, ye shall stop the hole, that ye may not perish in the flood.

21 And it came to pass that the brother of Jared did so, according as the Lord had commanded.

22 And he cried again unto the Lord saying: O Lord, behold I have done even as thou hast commanded me; and I have prepared the vessels for my people, and behold there is no light in them. Behold, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness?

23 And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels? For behold, ye cannot have windows, for they will be dashed in pieces; neither shall ye take fire with you, for ye shall not go by the light of fire.

24 For behold, ye shall be as a whale in the midst of the sea; for the mountain waves shall dash upon you. Nevertheless, I will bring you up again out of the depths of the sea; for the winds have gone forth out of my mouth, and also the rains and the floods have I sent forth.

25 And behold, I prepare you against these things; for ye cannot cross this great deep save I prepare you against the waves of the sea, and the winds which have gone forth, and the floods which shall come. Therefore what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea?


Ether 3:1-6

1 And it came to pass that the brother of Jared, (now the number of the vessels which had been prepared was eight) went forth unto the mount, which they called the mount Shelem, because of its exceeding height, and did molten out of a rock sixteen small stones; and they were white and clear, even as transparent glass; and he did carry them in his hands upon the top of the mount, and cried again unto the Lord, saying:

2 O Lord, thou hast said that we must be encompassed about by the floods. Now behold, O Lord, and do not be angry with thy servant because of his weakness before thee; for we know that thou art holy and dwellest in the heavens, and that we are unworthy before thee; because of the fall our natures have become evil continually; nevertheless, O Lord, thou hast given us a commandment that we must call upon thee, that from thee we may receive according to our desires.

3 Behold, O Lord, thou hast smitten us because of our iniquity, and hast driven us forth, and for these many years we have been in the wilderness; nevertheless, thou hast been merciful unto us. O Lord, look upon me in pity, and turn away thine anger from this thy people, and suffer not that they shall go forth across this raging deep in darkness; but behold these things which I have molten out of the rock.

4 And I know, O Lord, that thou hast all power, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man; therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light while we shall cross the sea.

5 Behold, O Lord, thou canst do this. We know that thou art able to show forth great power, which looks small unto the understanding of men.

6 And it came to pass that when the brother of Jared had said these words, behold, the Lord stretched forth his hand and touched the stones one by one with his finger. And the veil was taken from off the eyes of the brother of Jared, and he saw the finger of the Lord; and it was as the finger of a man, like unto flesh and blood; and the brother of Jared fell down before the Lord, for he was struck with fear.

Ether 2
Ether 3

1 Nephi 17:7-11

7 And it came to pass that after I, Nephi, had been in the land of Bountiful for the space of many days, the voice of the Lord came unto me, saying: Arise, and get thee into the mountain. And it came to pass that I arose and went up into the mountain, and cried unto the Lord.

8 And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto me, saying: Thou shalt construct a ship, after the manner which I shall show thee, that I may carry thy people across these waters.

9 And I said: Lord, whither shall I go that I may find ore to molten, that I may make tools to construct the ship after the manner which thou hast shown unto me?

10 And it came to pass that the Lord told me whither I should go to find ore, that I might make tools.

11 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did make a bellows wherewith to blow the fire, of the skins of beasts; and after I had made a bellows, that I might have wherewith to blow the fire, I did smite two stones together that I might make fire.


1 Nephi 18:1-4

1 And it came to pass that they did worship the Lord, and did go forth with me; and we did work timbers of curious workmanship. And the Lord did show me from time to time after what manner I should work the timbers of the ship.

2 Now I, Nephi, did not work the timbers after the manner which was learned by men, neither did I build the ship after the manner of men; but I did build it after the manner which the Lord had shown unto me; wherefore, it was not after the manner of men.

3 And I, Nephi, did go into the mount oft, and I did pray oft unto the Lord; wherefore the Lord showed unto me great things.

4 And it came to pass that after I had finished the ship, according to the word of the Lord, my brethren beheld that it was good, and that the workmanship thereof was exceedingly fine; wherefore, they did humble themselves again before the Lord.

Nephi 17
Nephi 18

Here are some of the things that stand out to me from these excerpts:

1.) The brother of Jared (from the Ether excerpt) already had some technological ability to build boats and that seemed fine with the Lord (who modified the weather instead of, say, inspiring them to create sails). Nephi, however, had a whole new method for building a boat shown to him via revelation.

2.) The Lord immediately solves Nephi's problems (where to find ore and how to build a boat). While He provides an immediate response to the brother of Jared regarding obtaining oxygen, He requests a solution to the light problem from the brother of Jared.

3.) Nephi has, at this point, already experienced seeing the form the Lord would take in the flesh. The brother of Jared, however, hasn't had that experience yet.

These stories illustrate, for me at least, various issues involved with the "transmission" of "understanding".

There are several hundred references to the word "understanding" in the scriptures (source). I've cherry-picked a couple here that show different aspects of the interplay between various people and the Lord when it comes to how this process works:

D&C 1:24

24 Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.


One thing that strikes me about D&C Section 1 is how often the Lord describes the Saints (i.e. me) as "weak". In the past I've viewed the commandments as a sort of end unto themselves, namely that we keep them because they represent the larger truth. Here, however, I believe that the Lord is saying the purpose of the commandments is to help us ("my servants") evolve beyond our current weak state. Or, more specifically, to help us develop "understanding" through experience about what it means to be a force for good in the universe, despite what we might otherwise be inclined to do. Thus the commandments (or at least the relatively current stuff in the D&C) are more of a preparatory thing, much like the quest undertake by the brother of Jared to light the vessels prepared him (along with his previous experiences) to see and "understand" God.

Another aspect of this verse is "after the manner of their language". We are limited in what we can comprehend because the Lord has to speak to us using human language. For instance, after giving something akin to a meta/astro/physics lesson in D&C 88, the Lord says:

D&C 88:46-48

46 Unto what shall I liken these kingdoms, that ye may understand?

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.

48 I say unto you, he hath seen him; nevertheless, he who came unto his own was not comprehended.


The Lord, when talking to people on earth, does a fair amount of "transmission" of concepts that may or may not translate well into human languages. Which leads me to another excerpt (and a larger point):

D&C 50:12

12 Now, when a man reasoneth he is understood of man, because he reasoneth as a man; even so will I, the Lord, reason with you that you may understand.


Plainly speaking, I read this as strongly implying that the way the Lord thinks is quite a bit different than how we think. When I read "reasoneth as a man", I immediately consider binary/axiomatic logic as one huge aspect of that. Namely, we like to think in terms of black and white, and the Lord doesn't think that way. We do proofs from first principles, but the Lord doesn't (or at least not always). Logic is very important in this world, even important enough within the context of religion that the Lord will use it when necessary. It lies at the foundation of many of the greatest achievements in human thought, and is very necessary in our day to day life. However, and especially in the context of religion, it is not the be-all and end-all of how to think. Or, at least, that's what I believe the Lord is getting at here and elsewhere in the scriptures. Hence not only is language a potential barrier, but even how we're wired to think is different enough from God that we need a host of experiences to help us "understand" Him.

God isn't the only one who has to deal with these issues, I think it is a common plight we all deal with when attempting to transmit some bit of knowledge to another person. Namely, the way I experience something is possibly (even probably) completely different from how another person experiences the same thing. Thus, to assume that they will extract the same lesson or meaning or whatever from the experience is to assume both erroneously and arrogantly. Similarly, if I'm attempting to "teach" something in a religious setting, I have to remind myself that I can't actually "teach" anything. Instead, the way forward is:

Alma 4:19

19 And this he did that he himself might go forth among his people, or among the people of Nephi, that he might preach the word of God unto them, to stir them up in remembrance of their duty, and that he might pull down, by the word of God, all the pride and craftiness and all the contentions which were among his people, seeing no way that he might reclaim them save it were in bearing down in pure testimony against them.


To me, "pure testimony" means my actual experience. In other words, all I can hope to do as a participant in a gospel discussion is to honestly share my experience with whatever we happen to be discussing about the Gospel, good or bad. The hope is that the Spirit will be there (I feel like honesty is one of the best ways to invite the spirit into a situation), and those who are participating will feel it and get what they need out of our shared experience.