Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Eternal Human Soul

What is the nature of our soul and does it endure beyond death? Can a purposeful life be established without knowing something about the eternal principles or laws by which we exist? As we look at the endless creations in a vast cosmos do we ponder our place?  Are we eternal beings with great potential or temporary flashes of electrochemical or cosmic energy without any significance at all?

I make my observations from what I have learned from being married for almost four decades, raising eight children, associating with others as an ecclesiastical leader and reading and attending educational and leadership seminars and other life experiences. I will cover some of the understandings that I have had over my lifetime. I became a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints when I was 17 years old. My opinions reflect my religious theology but are of course are my own and are not to be construed as anything on behalf of the church.
What is the human soul? Is there an eternal aspect to our existence? If so how is it discovered? With what theological understanding can we define the soul with some specificity?  When studying our world we generally adhere to sound scientific advice, or at least we should.  Do we adhere to sound theological or philosophical teachings as well, or do we prefer our own notions that temporarily sooth our mortal mental musings?

From a Latter-Day Saint perspective, I believe that the soul is the spirit united with a body. At present, it is the union of our spirit with this physical mortal body. Unique to LDS theology we understand that the spirits of all men and women are the literal offspring of God. Theological doctrines of mainstream orthodox Bible scholars teach that we are simply pawns brought into existence out of nothing.

Before our birth and after our death we see endless and beginningless existence which is a time of no time.  If we are here for an eternal purpose our current state of existence demonstrates that it does entail the necessity of a physical mortality and a body such as we have. Otherwise, we would not be here as we are.
If this time on earth is not a testing and learning period for our soul, what is it?. Part of the test is to see how we will respect the soul, which includes the body, our own and that of others. Avoiding obsessive behaviors through this process of life is one of its great challenges.

Our personal growth as eternal beings can only happen when the body and spirit are subjected to challenges and stresses. Although it may not seem like it, the oppositions, illnesses, and aging we face in life strengthen us in ways we may not fully comprehend. We do in fact live by faith. We go to school to learn, we exercise to get strong. These and many more obstacles are faced as we seek to become better at the things we choose to pursue that pertain to our spiritual nature.

When we die, the body and spirit are separated for a time. Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the spirit and the elements of the body will be united together again. At this time, the final resurrection, the body will be perfected and glorified to varying degrees according to the person’s willingness to learn eternal principles and follow them. 
The ability to make choices in life often called free will or agency comes because the most basic eternal element of our spirit, our intelligence was not made or created. It has always existed. If this were not the case then we would not have a will independent from God.

Our intelligence is a fundamental or elemental form of eternal light, truth, spirit or energy of which at the current time we have limited theology regarding it. God did not create it but through his power and the eternal plan he brings us to a state of existence capable of learning, living and forming relationships and acting on our own eternal will.

A veil of forgetting was placed on us as we came from God's presence. Now we act as we choose without force or influence other than our exposure to truth and error, in other words, exposure to the knowledge of good and evil. By choosing good we develop in such a way that our will aligns with our eternal potential to become like our creator.
What is it to sin? It is opposition to an eternal principle of some law that is everlasting and unchanging. Sex is an eternal principle based on the fact that the powers of creation are established in two genders. There is also an eternal opposition to this. These are the eternal truths that have always existed. Commandments are based on these eternal laws and sin is the violation of an eternal principle.   
We can take the law of gravity as a principle we all should understand.  If you jump from a high place and fall to a hard place this would be like the act of sinning.  That would be compared to breaking the law. Such an act could kill you physically. It doesn’t mean you can’t do it. You can also conform to the law by understanding it and using a parachute or net or other methods that allow flight or a soft landing.  The laws of physics can't be broken and violation of them always has consequences.
Violation of eternal principles causes the spirit to become dead or desensitized and a loss of spiritual capacity or death can occur. In such a state a soul is unprepared and therefore not able to stand in the presence of God. This lack of preparation can be reversed in almost every case under certain conditions.

The eternal nature of the consequences of sin has been overcome so that we don’t have to suffer the negative effects if we repent or change.  Our Savior, Jesus Christ brings this opportunity for change to occur and for our spirit to heal, to gain or regain the desire and willingness to learn eternal principles and follow them. This frees us in the most profound way to receive what God desires to give us.
Even if a person doesn't know these principles they still find something to identify with and formulate a purpose for life.  Without an objective that gives them hope and a purpose, a person can become depressed or despondent and under more extreme circumstances end their life. 
For most of us, our body demonstrates miraculous capacities for having experience and for healing when damaged. The exceptions are examples of the uncertainty of life that makes it a test with real challenges.

When subjected to opposition through exercise the body will break down muscle tissue and with proper nutrition become stronger.  Some people become obsessed with this process. In coming to earth our spirit is exposed to opposition in many forms.  Through this life which is a step in our eternal journey we learn things and become stronger as well.

Our intelligence, whatever level we each might possess allows us the element of self-determination. Our intelligence is a self-existent form of light and truth, an eternal spark of energy of some kind.  It was not it created out of nothingness as taught by certain theological philosophies of man.
While space expands infinitely around us, we can still find an opportunity to discover something of a closeness and intimacy between souls that can seem as profound as the distances and dimensions beyond human comprehension?

The nature of this intimacy is founded on eternal principles. Because of our fallen nature, our understanding of its proper application to happiness must be learned. There are many teachers and promoters of philosophies based on a few years of advanced education and some decades of experience. Such are the philosophies of men and their opinions.  They end at death.
Our unique journey of life brings about self-discovery and almost endless opportunities for making choices. It starts out in the simplistic innocence of a life waiting to be developed. A human baby is a helpless creature. How did that life come about? Was it the result of a union of two people committed to giving that new life every opportunity to learn and grow within the bounds of protective guidance?  It can also be an act of selfish indulgence or of ignorant experimentation? As billions of people will die and others be born over the next hundred years, under what circumstances will they be introduced to the world?
Prior to joining the church, I wondered about my identity as a person. Most of us do. The questions of where did I come from, why am I here and what happens after death has been part of my personal internal dialogue for as long as I can remember.  Most if not all of us will be engaged in the struggle for our full identity.  It is a part of life, learning and becoming.  
When I was in junior high I came across a book written by a doctor about everything you wanted to know about sex but were afraid to ask. That was pretty much the title of it.  While I don’t remember the specifics, it basically told about many of the perverted things and escapades people would do to find sexual arousal and sensations that were bizarre and often dangerous.  It beckons the question: How do we all eventually decide the manner in which we are going to be aroused and fulfill sexual sensations? Sexual experience gives a false sense of power.  As the powerful hormones are released they produce such an effect, whether we do so by ourselves or with any partner.
While I understood the ideas of what the book was about I was never inclined to implement any of the things I read.  Fortunately, the consequences of many of those acts were also explained. A few years later I joined the  Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints which played a formidable role in the development of my attitudes after that. 
Even then I had a strong sense that these ideas, practices, and acts in the book had no benefit for me.  Reading it came about from curiosity.  From that experience, I gained an insight that many times people may be curious about something and if they act on curiosity they may find themselves in a place that is difficult to move away from.

This is how fetishes, perverse ideas and any ideas for that matter develop if one continues to think about them.  Many times, however, curiosity as an innocent child can lead to experiences that form neural connections that are central emotions and feelings that we revert to that can remain a part of our experience into adolescence and adulthood.  We may think they are a part of us until we become aware that we do have the power to change them.
What is it about sex that makes it a topic of both avoided conversation in homes and between couples and overly demonstrated as fantasy and acted it out in public media venues?  How is it that anger develops and that what may have started as a loving attraction to another person becomes a hotbed of contention and discord leading to many of the social ills we face today? After my mother died I witnessed some of this in my dad's subsequent relationships and marriages.
How do we establish the attitudes and practices that allow us to enjoy the intimacy that heightens our most powerful bodily sensations?  How do we achieve a synergy of souls that allows us to create life and bond with each other and to the children of our creation?  We should be reminded that neither is the "man without the woman or the woman without the man in the Lord."

If love, trust, and respect are at the core of a relationship its chance for success is higher. Such is not the case in relationships built on selfish foundations and indulgences.
Because of the principle of agency, known to some as free will or our freedom to choose, people can think that there are somehow new frontiers of sexuality as a philosophical choice. They may think that in the modern world they will become acceptable to God if enough people are accepting of such ideas. These philosophies of men and women drive many sexual related ideologies. They are the cause of much of the brokenheartedness and unhappiness in the world.
God has however established both the process and the guidelines for success and happiness in this endeavor of relationships based on lasting intimacy. I have observed personally how those counsels and commandments can bless a person.  Commitment to complete fidelity in marriage is preceded by respect for the powers that create life.  How will you measure your life when it comes to your opportunity to create and develop lasting intimacy?  
There is a multitude of philosophies regarding sex, love, and relationships as I mentioned.  They are for the most part the philosophies of men and women with peer group acceptance that have somehow found a prominent presence in society. They have been developers of the dialogues that take place on this subject. Their credentials are those given by other men and women, not from God.
Some children have a childhood of joy and happiness and others of abuse and neglect. What will determine which it is?  In whatever manner it goes, it becomes a complex time as adolescence shapes our experience as we mature into adults.  From there it can grow into either a life of primary happiness interspersed with some challenges or a life of constant challenges. For this reason, I have the opinion that parenting is the most important endeavor undertaken in life.

From what I have observed, many if not most of us will be exposed to some kind of trauma, scene, abuse or experience that is negative regarding sex and sexuality.  It is part of the opposition that will likely happen as we live in the fallen world.
In the modern society in which we find ourselves it is difficult to raise a child with values that regard the body as something to value let alone with a healthy sexual identity. Many false ideologies exist regarding body dynamics ass to what might be appropriate to do to it.

Even if a parent could teach a child perfect principles, the outcome would still be uncertain as the encounters of the child will always be subject to the agency or freedom of choice of the child and the morality of society.  Because life is a learning experience, humans don't really have any right to judge another for where they are in their respective journey. 
Sexual abuse, promiscuity and every form of sexual aberration have always been with the human condition. Opposition exists in all things in life. The pursuit of pleasure without restraint or so-called sexual liberty, not only with the opposite sex but with whomever and whatever a person might choose are options that either willingly or unwillingly become the stimulus for our minds and the bodies capacity for sexuality. 
Sexual preference has been proclaimed by many to be their choice and others say they were born with what they feel towards a particular gender. The idea that a person was born attracted to those of the same gender is a claim that seems to be asserted when the adherents have some prohibition in their basic moral upbringing that would tell them that what they are doing is against that moral precept.
Developing our sexual attractions is something that takes place during our whole life.  It will change as we age or undergo other physical and mental challenges.  We will all be tempted to act outside of our leaned bounds if we have them.  How is it that decades after marriage people divorce or profess same-sex attraction?  They weren’t born this way. Their thoughts, feelings they developed and exposure to ideas that they ultimately acted on gave way to them.
God did ordain the union of men and women? If he is the giver of the gift and establishes of its purposes then it becomes our choice to follow it or not.  Marriage was instituted for the purpose of organizing the power to create life and providing joy in the partnership of marriage.  Any sexual act outside of this authorized union hurts us spiritually, damns us, stops our progress with and degrades the eternal purpose of the union and our spiritual sensitivities.
Cultural norms have for millennia, for the most part, supported the development of relationships that would build society through the creation of new life. Happiness was sought through the sexual expression of men and woman and this attitude has been learned by children and the development of their sexual identity follows. Life isn’t perfect as we all know. Abusive sexual activity manifests itself in a multitude of ways. 
In modern society, it is difficult to raise a child with a good self-esteem that will also contribute to the path of their sexual identity.  Where does the idea come from that a person has a sexual identity other than the gender with which they are born?  It is a philosophy of man, the opinion of self-proclaimed experts and nothing more. That our gender is eternal is knowledge gained from prophets of God. 
Sex is meant to draw us together as a human family. This can only happen when there are bounds that help us see how the purpose of restraint gives expression to a greater joy, happiness, and pleasure that can lead its participants to the creation and nurturing of our human family. 
Sex at its highest and best purpose is by eternal design and will when used according to its designer please both God and the people authorized to be participants.  By authorized, I mean legal and lawful marriage between a man and a woman. This pattern is based on the eternal principle that we are created in the image of God, male and female.  To be in the image of someone is to look like them.
To find a fullness of joy or happiness we learn the roles that each person has based on gender and the fullness of expression that each person is endowed with.  We must act in accordance with our eternal identity of which our gender is an unchangeable part. If relationships are eternal as Latter-Day Saints teach, we see the image of God expressed in the creation of families. The power of creation is in each of our bodies and by eternal design is to be realized through the union of those bodies. 
We will be developing and controlling our sexual attractions for our whole life. They will change for various reasons and we will be tempted to act outside of our stated bounds. Opposition will test the resolve of each of us for most of our mortal life.
People in today's modern age would never stop to think for even the briefest moment that they somehow lacked authority to act on their sexual instincts and desires.
The Human Brain and Changing Behavior, Emotions and Traits
We all think differently or so it would seem. Two or more people can see the same thing and think entirely different thoughts about it. The fact is though we all think the same.  How our brain records experiences is the same for all of us. It provides the stimulus through our senses for our bodies to produce certain chemical reactions that are in essence stored in the body.

Neurological connections are hardwired from experiences and our reaction to them.  These feelings can form as we live unaware of what is taking place until we develop the self-awareness to control them. Our likes, emotions, dislikes, addictions, attractions, and personalities can change with a concerted effort to do so, Some are more difficult than others. All are developed by the way we responded to the stimulus we encounter in our life’s journey. 
In this way, you could say we think differently. We receive a stimulus and store the experience in unique ways according to the individual nature of our path.  Some effects compound with greater force creating a spectrum of understandings, opinions, and attitudes as we might allow them.  This is why we may see things differently, why some are more loving, kind, mean or angry.  Some feelings are also affected by chemical balances or imbalances in our body and brain.
Even though we all experience some element of the emotional spectrum, some choose to control which they allow to compound in their life. Others default to the non-virtues seeking to provide sensations to the body that may or may not allow them to develop their emotional intelligence to higher levels of virtue as they move through life. It is also reasonable to think that sometimes feelings do develop that may not be controllable under normal circumstances.  These, however, are not the correct basis for regulating a standard of behavior.
Sexual experience and the attitudes that we approach it with are developed. We each have a biological gender, it is not something we change.  Our sexual attitudes come from training, culture, learning and choices based on stimulus and responses and philosophies we encounter in the world.  
There have been extensive studies of the brain and psychology to know that neurons that form pathways of emotion and feelings can be changed. To say otherwise denies the essence of agency and free will.
Theological Observations
After Eve partook of the fruit, Adam knew that his most important duty was to the command that God had given, to stay with her and multiply and replenish the earth.  This was the will of God and Adam and Eve fulfilled it. 
The promise of a literal resurrection is fundamental to our doctrine as Latter-Day Saints. Orthodox and sectarian Christianity debates whether such is the case. Their scholars don't know. To us overcoming death is to come forth from the grave united to our spirit and thus the soul becomes eternal in a final state of being.  At that time however the body will be perfected and glorified to the extent that the person was faithful to their covenants.  Some will have the power to continue creation and others will not.  It is not an arbitrary thing. It is determined by our choices during our life and any opportunities we have before the resurrection in the spirit world. 
From what I understand of saving principles is that no person will be judged by God for that which they could not control.  If circumstances led to certain decisions and behaviors when they could not discern they may not be accountable.  We should not deny the eternal agency that each soul is given once truth is presented to them be it in this life or that time before the resurrection.
Our doctrine is clear as to what it means to be created in the image of God male and female.  We look like God.  Our heavenly parents are Gods and they are God. They are male and female. Motherhood and fatherhood are eternal principles, as are womanhood and manhood. We are their sons and daughters. Creation of human souls is not the act of a solitary incorporeal genderless intelligence forming pawns or robots to worship it out of nothingness. 
Sex is an eternal part of that image. It is sacred and holy to those that make it so. It can also be perverted in prurient ways not keeping it sacred.  From this opposition, our agency is established.  For this purpose was creation ordained and a fall arranged and salvation offered. To give us a chance to become like our heavenly parents and to enjoy eternal increase and the joy of giving new life eternally, nurturing eternal souls to find their greatest potential.  
Jacob 2:5 But behold, hearken ye unto me, and know that by the help of the all-powerful Creator of heaven and earth I can tell you concerning your thoughts, how that ye are beginning to labor in sin, which sin appeareth very abominable unto me, yea, and abominable unto God.
Alma 29:5 Yea, and I know that good and evil have come before all men; he that knoweth not good from evil is blameless; but he that knoweth good and evil, to him it is given according to his desires, whether he desireth good or evil, life or death, joy or remorse of conscience.

2 Nephi 2:5 And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil. And the law is given unto men. And by the law no flesh is justified; or, by the law, men are cut off. Yea, by the temporal law they were cut off; and also, by the spiritual law they perish from that which is good, and become miserable forever.

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