It has been a difficult week, to say the least. Like everyone else, I am looking for answers, hoping for peace, praying for our country.
I had a thought, though, this morning. Reading Joseph Smith's History this week, I am struck by the fact that the prologue to the First Vision was that someone lived in complicated, contentious, unsettled times. That conflict launched a question, and that question launched a stunning flood of light that continues to this day.
The message of the Restoration is that God listens, that God is there, that God knows our names. The message is that God gives liberally to all those who ask and seek wisdom.
I don't know the answers to all the things that have me asking and wondering. God, however, does. And the Restoration is a reminder of that.
Once when I was a bishop I was meeting with a young couple and their very young toddler. To keep the child occupied, I gave him my keys, which he loved to jingle and play with. During the closing prayer of our meeting, I opened my eyes and looked up in time to see the child had moved a chair and was inches away from sticking the keys into the electrical socket.
I shouted his name loudly and the parents opened their eyes. They shouted too, and we all jumped up, knocking chairs over and creating a huge ruckus.
The poor kid was crying from all the noise and our tone, but it saved his life. Since then, I have really thought a lot about this. Once you start looking, you can see God’s love and mercy everywhere, but sometimes the tone feels a bit like people shouting to save a small child. Anyway, this has helped me reframe and understand things I didn’t used to.
For example, sometimes I struggle to reconcile the god of the Old Testament with Jesus of the New Testament, and always-forgiving Christ of the Book of Mormon with the stricter voice in the Doctrine and Covenants.
Beyond the scriptural record, in my own experience I have encountered over and over a loving Father and a gentle Savior.
So sometimes it is jarring to read something that feels more harsh. In case anyone else ever struggles with this, I believe there is an important key in D&C 19 that helps explain this.
The Lord explains the difference between eternal damnation and endless damnation. It is a pretty stunning chapter that turns centuries of theology upside down in a few verses.
But the Lord says something important to all of us. Why does he use certain terms? “wherefore it is more express than other scriptures, that it might work upon the hearts of the children of men, altogether for my name’s glory.”
His glory is not some sort of vanity. We know that his glory is bringing to pass our eternal life. We also get a glimpse of the cost of suffering for sins.
“16 For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;
17 But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;
18 Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink--
19 Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.”
So, the point of some of the terms and, by extension, I believe, the very strict language he uses is to help us avoid having to suffer as he did, which in this verse, sounds as if it is still very fresh and present to him, even though it’s been around 1800 years at the writing of this verse.
In this way, God is not unlike a parent who shouts at a child to prevent him from walking into traffic or to keep her from sticking a finger in a light socket.
Did you all see the Christmas star the other night? It made me particularly reflective.
I have always believed in a God who could part seas and calm storms. But as I have come to know him better, I have also come to believe deeply in a God who ministers to us through personal kindness and attention, tender mercies that are often miraculous.
Jesus, after all, worked his first miracle at a private event, turning water into wine. I find this striking because it had no eternal significance. It didn't really even have much significance in the worldly scheme of things. So why did he do it? I can only assume he did this to make someone he loved happy. It was important to the person, and therefore important to him.