Sunday, June 20, 2010

Fatherhood

I have thought for many years about what it means to be called a father. I have been called dad more often than father but are they not much the same.  My small children have now grown up.  I am not alone in my experience as countless men share the calling. I have a father, he has a father and so on.  While we have discovered some of our family roots we don't know them all, yet each was an essential link in a chain of creation implemented by God in the Garden of Eden. It is about understanding who we are as individuals and human beings.

How important is this opportunity to share in creation? How does one describe the feeling of seeing their newborn child and thinking about the potential of their life?  What is the power or influence of a father or the lack thereof?  When viewed with an eternal perspective, understanding begins to unfold and we see why God is our Eternal Father.

Our first born was a boy followed by more boys and girls and now grandchildren.  The wonder of this experience is shared with my companion.  Her divine nature as a mother and woman never ceases to amaze me.  Our time together has brought a seemingly endless opportunity to watch unique individuals grow and develop under our care as their parents.  It has been and is a learning experience beyond compare for us and them and still is.  While I set out to count my blessings as a father I have to ask the question.  What is fatherhood without motherhood?  Can it even exist without motherhood?

Raising children in this world can be such a consuming experience that it is possible to take it for granted while it is happening.  When the opportunity to reflect on a child's growth and achievements arrives it can be amazing.  If we try to make it a point to reflect often and also appreciate the moments when they are happening our lives will be filled with amazement.

I think perhaps the greatest calling in life is to raise the next generation of parents.  Whether as a parent, aunt, uncle or friend it is something that must happen to keep love at the center of our relationships. Our extended families provide support when shortcomings, unexpected death or other challenges enter the picture of life.  We try our best to teach and love but we are still learning and in the process ourselves. Why does God want us to have this experience?  He created the world. Why? So we could be partners in creation and learn on a small measure what he does.

Fatherhood is about creation and teaching and it is inseparably and eternally connected to motherhood.  I think and ponder on what it means to be eternally and inseparably bound in perfect union as co-creators with God.  An intimacy and relationship so vital to His process of creation that he places bounds and limits to be followed.  It is a perfect union not because of us but because that is how he designed it.   The imperfections of mortal life as we see it in society today have certainly given way to difficult and confusing circumstances and ideologies.  These can cloud the eternal perspective yet we must see the truth of our most intimate relationships.

What does fatherhood mean when speaking of God and His title "Father in Heaven"?  As I have asked that question in religious discussion I have heard from most traditional Christians that it is not a literal fatherhood.  It is only figurative because he is our creator and the title father is used only as a manner of speaking because such language is biblical.  Traditional Christian doctrines do not teach that God is a father in any literal sense.  It is wholly figurative.  The only christian religious group that recognizes God as the literal father of our spirit is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

I always imagined and do believe that our relationship is personal and that Heavenly Father is a title that is very literal to both us and to Jesus Christ and that we are God the Father's spiritual offspring  in a divine and significant way.

Parenting and creation of life is naturally served and set forth in a pattern of an observable nature. It is taught in the first and fifth chapters of Genesis.  Our pattern of creation is set forth in the image of God, male and female.   Think about what that means.  It is to be a parents with children, teaching them truth and inspiring them to observe and learn the laws of life even the laws of eternal life.

One question to think about is when did our relationship with Deity begin?   It is a common belief that a part of our nature is spirit creation and united with a physical body.  To Latter Day Saints, this is the soul of man.  There is scriptural teaching to this effect. When did this creation of our spiritual nature come about?

I am only aware of  two basic beliefs regarding this subject.  One is that God created our spirit instantly out of nothing to give our body life with no significant eternal purpose.  The other is that our spirits and intelligence existed prior to earthly birth and have been enjoined for an important eternal purpose for spiritual growth through a pattern of natural and intimate creation.

If we are eternal beings on a journey that will be everlasting it makes more sense to me, that although we may not understand how, that the part of us that makes us unique and different from everyone else, our spiritual intelligence, has always existed.  Our spirit is a literal natural creation flowing from the eternal truth and from a divine and sacred relationship.  We have a spiritual DNA endowed from God that we should become aware of.

When we look at our creation and existence, a question about creation and fatherhood should be asked. What is it without motherhood and womanhood?  When the creation of the world was finished, they the Gods, (It says let us, plural, there were at least two and I understand that to be the Father and the Son) then created man in their own image and likeness.  That creation included both man and woman.  Based on this and other scripture passages the likeness and image of God cannot be a single man by himself.  

The Genesis story makes the nature of our relationships perfectly clear. He, the man, is not complete without woman and neither is she complete without man.  The "image" of God is described as "male and female".  That is how we exist, now and forever.  Alone neither can create any living thing but together they can create after their own image and likeness.  This is an endowment from our creator. This is an eternal truth. It is his pattern.  It does not change.

Think of the greatest birth ever recorded that we celebrate and revere as Christians.  Our eternal hope is based on a sacred birth which never could have occurred without the divine power and gift of motherhood.

Links to Articles on Parenthood

http://lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?hideNav=1&locale=0&sourceId=bd0539e7e7a9b010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&vgnextoid=024644f8f206c010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD

http://lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?hideNav=1&locale=0&sourceId=54cf84d4a0a0c010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD

Comments, observations and articles are the author's opinions from his perspective as a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints regarding spiritual truth.  They look at the scriptural accounts, philosophical reasoning and revealed teachings about man's existence and purposes. The opinions expressed are my own and do not represent the church's position.  In most cases links are included to official church materials or other interesting articles.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Eternal Marriage, Families and the Family of God

The apostle Paul exclaimed "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named." Ephesians 3:14,15


In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints we teach that our relationships formed here on earth can continue in eternities. "The same sociality that exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory." (Doctrine and Covenants 130:2)


The family is a divine institution. There is a family in Heaven and on earth. God ordained it to be so and allows each of us to participate if we so choose. By observation it is his preferred pattern of human creation. It is more important than any other organization on the earth and the most important in heaven.  He ordained Marriage and the family.

There is no love formed if there is no creation. He joined man and woman for that purpose. How we use those powers to create is up to us. The consequences of how we use them is not.


Through respectful courtship and a commitment to marriage we establish stable relationships with greater opportunity to bring children into the world. God allows us to participate in the continuing process of human creation. Forming a family under sacred covenants is a very important element in the worship of our Father in Heaven.

Theological scholars of classical theism have said that marriage ends at death. While often claiming that God's truth is manifest in his creation they deny the glory of God's most sacred and basic institution. They nullify all experience gained through our most intimate relationships, those by which his gospel is best taught and his teachings exemplified.

Why would the love developed by a married couple and their family through the trials and sacrifices of life be removed from existence at death as if it were nothing?  


Jesus speaking:
Mathew 19:4,5,6 And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which amade them at the beginning made them male and female,


 5 And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall acleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?


 6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath ajoined together, let not man bput asunder.

Adam and Eve and their posterity would be redeemed from the physical and spiritual death that came about by their fall. Christ would redeem them and their marriage covenant as well.  After their fall into mortality they began to create after their image and likeness just as God did and does.


Why would God institute a relationship such as marriage if he had no prior familiarity with it and use it as a primary institution for filling his creation?  He married Adam and Eve and authorized them to multiply and replenish the earth. They could not do this until after they had fallen from immortality.  


In loving relationships solidified by marriage, husbands and wives learn and grow by serving and not by seeking to fulfill every lustful thought or desire.  It also brings the opportunity to bear children if able to do so and this responsibility blesses our lives and the human race when done in committed relationships established in covenants to serve.


The power of God’s eternal fatherhood is established by eternal motherhood. He is the Father of our spirits in a literal way.  Father is his most cherished title.  He desires that we understand these sacred opportunities. Godliness is not limited to the male gender.

There is a family in heaven. God desires that we each have the opportunity to form one is we desire. We do and will in fact always belong to a family  


Everything about this creation bears witness to a divine order of creation relating to male and female.  "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them." (Genesis 1:27)

Whose is the image that woman is created after?  This is no mystery.  The Bible teaches the pattern that the image of God is male and female. Is God the Father a single parent? No he is not.


If we look at creation, the real question about creation and fatherhood should be asked.  What is it without motherhood and womanhood?  

While we don’t know the exact words that God spoke to perform the marriage of Adam and Eve, as immortal beings it would have been an eternal marriage. There would have been no words of until death do you part, or as long as you both shall live defining its duration.   They were after all immortal beings at the time.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Why did Jesus have to die?

How does the life and death of a single person in the history of the world proclaim to offer our greatest desire?  That of eternal life.  What are the reasons to believe that he lived and died as the scriptures record? Is not time in history measured by reference to his birth and death? There are reasons to believe that he lives and stands at the head of His church that is on the earth today.  

Questions We Should Ask


Why could God the Father through omnipotent power not waive or forgive the the effects of sin from man without some offering? Why could He not overcome that one fateful incomprehensible event we call death by merely speaking? According to so many theologians and religious philosophers he created everything by speaking. Why not solve the issues of sin by such power? Did Jesus have to die as a sacrifice, or was there some other way?

The answer seems obvious.  God did not have the power to save mankind without the sacrifice of Christ. If so he would have done it.

His name is known among practically all nations and has been so for thousands of years.  He is the only person to promise that physical death will be overcome.  No other religious leader has made such a promise. 

Understanding the reasons why Jesus had to die is to seek knowledge of principles that are eternal in nature.  These cannot be the incorrect scriptural exegesis or the conclusions of religious philosophers and scholars following their own interpretations of scriptural canons. It shouldn't be a mystery or something that needs to be debated.   Neither can they be the spiritual inclinations of individuals linked to nothing but their own internal musings and preponderances.  

Did truth spring into existence six thousand years ago by a bemused God, uncertain of what else to do after eons of doing nothing in the void of eternal space and time of which he was the sole occupant?  Such was the reasoning of the councils of men based on their doctrinal foundations of Nicaea. 


We can imagine that there will be many mysteries yet to be explained in the world to come, but why the Savior had to die has been revealed with greater understanding so that we might live with greater purpose and desire to believe and follow.  


We are subject to mortal limitations and may not fully understand the Savior's atonement but we can understand the principles by which it was necessary and that eternal laws of an unchanging truth are the foundation.

For mankind to experience the suffering that life on earth brings, and the suffering and sacrifice made by the Son of God would seem to dictate a compelling reason on the part of God the Father.  It would be some element of eternal truth by which he governs.

Eternal truth is an unchanging body of laws and principles by which all things exist. What are these laws that would require the sacrifice of a holy being to save others?  If no eternal immutable laws existed to explain this event, then chaos and whim would be resulting option.

How do principles of divine justice and mercy reconcile on an eternal scale? Is not justice a common pursuit in our relationships among mankind?  Do we not have laws that we deem just and necessary to maintain order in society? What about in the infinite heavens?

Has traditional Christian theology addressed adequately the principles of eternal justice and how mercy can satisfy it? Many of their philosophers have pointed out contradictions and questions that their doctrinal positions cannot reconcile. 
  
The Garden of Eden

What really took place in the Garden of Eden?  
If God did not want man to have a choice, why did he place the fruit of death within his grasp calling it the knowledge of good and evil?  Religious philosophers cannot answer this question.  They only make up reasons to try and explain it.   When the man and woman had partaken, the Gods stated that man had become as one of them.

Was man's fall a failed effort of a divine creation, a short sighted deity? Was God's main plan that mankind live forever in a state of innocent paradise? If this was the case it would make Christ a "plan B" for mankind's salvation? Such is a common explanation of the viewpoint of sectarian Bible scholars and their reasoning.

Much if not all of historical Christianity has adopted the idea that Adam's transgression was a mistake or even a rebellion.   The New Testament however clearly teaches that Jesus was foreordained to be the Savior of the world.  Would not the fall also be foreordained? Was Adam's fall not part of God's plan?


It is a fairly simple conclusion that Adam and Eve's decision to partake of the fruit would be necessary for the plan of salvation to be implemented.  It is evident that the whole story of Eden and what Adam and Eve knew is not in the Bible.

Adam was not created in a fallen state for a reason.  Yet he had to fall in order for salvation to come. The earth and creation of man was not a random event nor was Adam's choice unanticipated by God. 


Our first parents and we ourselves lived with God before the earth was created in a pre-mortal life.  Many preparations for this life were made at that time.

Adam and Eve were chosen for the purpose of being the first to inhabit the earth.  Through an event dependent on their agency or freedom of choice, man fell from the paradise in the Garden of Eden.   Exposure to the knowledge of good and evil was the result and the only way they could exercise free will, also known as moral agency. This is the concept that we can choose and then be accountable for those choices.  

The knowledge of good and evil was determined by one fruit on the same tree, not two trees in separate gardens.  It was not designated as an evil tree, simply one that had consequences to partaking from it.  

Neither the creation or the placement of the tree were random events. The availability of this option and partaking in an act of self directed choice was designed by God to advance the human condition not to condemn it.  

God used Satan to advance his purposes by enticing Eve. Would a loving God really condemn humanity for all eternity because of what two individuals did? Did they frustrate the plan of the Almighty?  Orthodox theologian/philosophers have taught this for almost 2000 years.


The fall, however, brings an essential opportunity to gain experience through making choices and learning from the consequences. It is not condemnatory in nature.  The method of redemption was in place before the fall took place.

Without this life and its experiences, we would not receive the experiential knowledge or the physical body necessary for full spiritual development. It is through this mortal life that God gives mankind the opportunity to develop their intellect, gain experience and make choices that have real eternal consequences.  All things take place under the umbrella of grace provided by Jesus Christ as creator, his atonement and the perfect justice of his and our Almighty Father.

The Purpose of Mortality
Imperfection, suffering and many random injustices exist in this physical world.  It is through these afflictions and oppositions that choices are manifest and made. The panorama of choices and their consequences covers the spectrum of human existence.  From as good as we can be as humans, to as evil and corrupted as one might imagine, exercising all manner of abusive behavior and inflicting their evil on others.

How then do the injustices of mortal life reconcile to a loving God?  Here we see the importance of moral agency or our individual opportunity to choose.  When Adam fell the record states "man has become as one of us", in that he now was able to know the moral choices associated with good and evil. He became like God in that respect.

The result of having freedom to act and to not have our choices infringed upon by God is that evil seemingly has all the opportunity to manifest itself as it desires. The collective weight inflicted and suffering caused by individual sin and poor choices is tremendous on all affected parties.  There would be no freedom without opposition of the negative vices to the positive virtues. 

This creation and mortal existence attest to the nature of God's plan for us.  If he is a being of order and reason, this creation and existence cannot be a random act of a whimsical nature or some type of experimental project. 

With the amount of suffering inflicted by evil and the injustice that is present here, God can only be doing one of two things.  He is either compelled by some reasoning or law to do it or he created the world and man because he gets some satisfaction from mortal suffering.  

There must be an eternal purpose for having a physical body and facing the challenges and opposition that exist in mortality.  We must be here to learn and accomplish something of immense importance that could not be done in any other way.

While Adam had an immortal body not subject to death before his fall, his existence was not the fullness of God's eternal plan. Through Adam’s fall and the foreordained resurrection of Jesus Christ, Adam’s body and that of all his posterity would be redeemed and perfected to a state of glory that was not achieved at his creation in the garden.
 
The power of the Savior's atonement brings an increase of spiritual power to us as resurrected beings. It first required a descent into a temporary mortality by which our eternal spirit would become associated with a physical body. A place where difficulties, sin and opposition existed, including mortal death.  

Death and sin were consequences of Adam's choice, they were consequential and not punitive as some have concluded. God made provisions to overcome both of them before Adam ever took one step in the Garden or the first bite of the fruit.

During our mortality we are subject to the temptations of the adversary.  Satan's punishment was and is that he was cast out of the pre-mortal heaven and will forever remain without a body or a chance to be resurrected.  He was cast out of the pre-mortal realm to the earth for his rebellion against the concept of man being responsible for his own choices.  Death releases us from his dominion and temptations. Because of our Redeemer, sin and the sting of death are eliminated and Satan is overcome.

Without this mortal life and the opposing forces and choices that are part of it, we could not progress in ways our Father in Heaven intended. Here on earth we have a comprehensive opportunity to learn and experience good and evil.  Which we follow is our choice. This life is a necessary step for eternal happiness. Here on earth we learn many important things as we form family relationships, experience the consequences of our choices and undergo a vast variety of opposition.

This life is a time for developing and living by faith and proving our moral agency by our choices in an environment of freedom from immediate consequences.  Adam did not die physically on the spot when he partook of the tree.  He was given a lifetime to repent and learn and began to have children in that same environment.  

Even though all sin will be punished and righteousness rewarded, we are not punished the second we commit sin or rewarded the moment we do good.  This would incline us away from any negative consequence and faith would be nullified.

The means to overcome the spiritual death that Adam and Eve suffered in the garden was immediately implemented. They were taught about salvation through their Savior and Redeemer who was chosen when they were in the pre-mortal life. They also learned the principles of repentance and salvation and taught them to their children.  The Holy Ghost was also present in their lives.

Eternal Truth and the Laws of Justice and Mercy
God's sovereignty is according to the eternal truth which he upholds. God is holy because he obeys all truth.  If this were not the case the alternative is a to be directed by whims of uncertain design or consequence of a non eternal nature.

Theologians and many biblical scholars have suggested based on their interpretation of scripture that God does things for his own pleasure or randomly.  Some which would include the causing of suffering in his creations.  Such should not be considered to be the case.

My purpose here is not to consider every aspect of the divine justice and eternal law because I do not know them.  The point to be made is that the death of Jesus was required, not by a whimsical Father acting out of a random act of a world gone wrong, but by a working of eternal truth implemented by the Father.

This message is to look at the obvious reasons why the demands of justice are so powerful and that they must coexist independently with God.  Why would he allow the death of his only begotten if there was any way he could avoid it. He was not sacrificing Jesus to himself as is taught by modern theologians based on classic theism. If he made the law he could change it, but he didn't and can't.

God abides by the truth. Truth is comprised of all eternal laws, principles and facts. Theses laws are dictated by inexorable or immutable sources of perfect justice that govern the heavens and are the framework of eternal truth. He does not create truth or eternal laws.  Just as He has always existed so too have they.  He is therefore a God of truth.

The importance of understanding the basis of perfect justice and eternal law is that chaos would exist if they did not. Eternal laws are the foundation for the moral laws that God has given us.  If they did not exist there would be no basis for sin or condemnation or goodness and righteousness. They have been given to man in the form of commandments.  Sin is the violation of these eternal spiritual laws and principles. If the consequences of sin were allowed to continue unbounded, chaos would take over the universe.

Through prophets like Moses and in other scriptural teachings man is taught something of the laws of heaven and the difference between good and evil. No mortal person is capable of keeping them all and thus we sin.  To overcome sin and its effects requires a redeeming power.  That power is the atonement of Jesus Christ.  He is the only one that ever lived the law perfectly and was qualified to be our redeemer.  

Neither the laws of justice, spiritual death or physical death held power over him because of his perfect obedience and godhood. He was subject to mortal death as the son of a mortal woman but held power over it in a way we do not fully comprehend.

God exists in the midst of good and evil and intended for us to know it. If such opposition did not exist, there would be no knowledge or understanding, no moral agency or free will, because there would be no opportunity to choose anything.  There would be nothing to experience and therefore no purpose for existence.   There would be no need of creation. 

To to make choices and learn the difference between good and evil are key purposes for coming to earth. Jesus died to give us that freedom and opportunity. Because of him our poor choices do not need to condemn or destroy us or cause us unnecessary suffering.

Truth cannot change or it would cease to be truth. If as a loving God, he held such power, then the concept of allowing any person to suffer, or to use death or sacrifice in order to have mercy would be unnecessary and extreme, if not whimsical.  Under the justice of eternal laws, mercy can only be brought about by fulfillment of the penalties associated with the broken laws.  If this were not the case, God would not be perfectly just.

Jesus as our Savior

God the Father saves us from the punishment of sin and exercises mercy through the laws which he upholds.  These laws allow for an innocent and sinless being to suffer the penalties on behalf of those who break the laws.  In the case of man, the measure of suffering necessary to redeem him required that God send his son as the only begotten in the flesh.

Jesus was a being of infinite capacity, he was a God because of his Father and yet born of a mortal mother, and therefore able to live or die as he chose.  Because he lived a perfect life he was free from the demands of justice and therefore able to offer himself for us in the form of a vicarious sacrifice and satisfy the demands of justice that otherwise would require our punishment.

God the Father allowed the suffering and death of Christ and met the demands of eternal justice for our sins. Christ willingly accepted this mandate of the Father. He suffered to a degree that we will not comprehend in this lifetime. Neither do we yet fully understand the interaction of these laws which I have tried to describe yet they must exist in order for such sacrifice to be required.

Why did Jesus have to die? The eternal plan requires that the spirit sons and daughters of exalted parents, which is who we are to experience a physical creation with mortal life. By means of a perfect redemption, which includes a physical resurrection, we will receive eternal stations of glory according to how we loved and served God.  Do we accept the offering? Do we willingly repent of our sins and express obedience to his laws? At a future time we will understand the full importance of passing through the tribulation of mortality with the opportunity to make choices.

Judgement and Accountability
Every person born on the earth will stand before God to give an accounting of their life and acknowledge his justice or receive his mercy and forgiveness. Before they are judged each person will be given a just opportunity to know what Jesus did.  

Those who choose to follow God by repenting of their sins and accepting Christ and his covenants will not suffer the penalty for their sins. They will receive an eternal reward that includes joy and happiness and eternal family relationships.

Those who reject the commandments and ignore his sacrifice subject themselves to the justice of the law and the penalties associated therewith and forgo the mercy that would have been available to them.  They will suffer for their own sins and will not be able to have eternal life in His presence. They will be "saved" but not exalted.  Their eternal life will be more than they had in mortality but short of what was available to them. The Father constantly extends the invitation to come unto him and repent as he desires that all partake of his mercy knowing that justice cannot be denied.

I have experienced personally the effects of Christ's mercy and know it has power to lift every burden and remove the effects of sin and suffering from us as individuals.  It is life eternal, to know the only true God and his son Jesus Christ.  To know how they love each other and us and what they have done to bring about this marvelous gift on which we might have a perfect brightness of hope.

For more reading on the Atonement:

https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1985/04/the-purifying-power-of-gethsemane?lang=eng

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